June Senate Summary – the top 5 issues

The June Senate agenda was jam-packed with important business which is no doubt reflective of the hard work going on around campus. Perhaps the recent cold snap can be blamed for encouraging us to stay in our offices and ticking off items from our to-do-lists.

Dr. Tracey Bretag

Despite the cold and wet weather, we managed almost full attendance. The major strategic topic for discussion centred upon the issue of Academic Integrity. Senate welcomed a guest speaker, Dr Tracey Bretag from the University of South Australia who gave an excellent presentation on how best to set, communicate and reinforce positive messages about the ethical behaviour we expect from all members of the University’s community. This presentation builds upon findings arising from a major Federal Government Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) project entitled “Embedding and extending exemplary academic integrity policy and support frameworks across the higher education sector” which was led by Dr. Bretag and whose website is well worth visiting.

Senate was also briefed on the University’s Academic Integrity Matters student ambassadors program, which is led by Sonia Saddiqui (sonia.saddiqui at mq.edu.au). I’d like to strongly encourage Unit Convenors, lecturers and tutors to invite student ambassadors along so that they can introduce themselves to your classes. You can contact Sonia for further information.

A separate blog post will follow summarising the key messages in Tracey’s presentation and outlining the next steps for Macquarie…so stayed tuned.

In the meantime, here’s a brief summary of the other top five issues considered by Academic Senate.

Review of the Disruption to Studies Policy

A working group of the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee is currently reviewing the operation and implementation of the Disruptions to Studies Policy. Senate was briefed on the themes which had emerged during the review and the issues which had been identified with the application of the Procedure.

The working group presented a series of recommendations to Academic Senate for discussion, which are outlined on pages 12-22 of the Senate Agenda. Some members of Senate expressed concern about the recommendation to accept medical certificates. In particular, they put the view this undermined one of the original key intents of the policy, which had been to put in place a more rigorous hurdle and to encourage practitioners to provide targeted information which spoke to the impact of a disruption on a student’s ability to study. It was observed that the current Professional Authority Form (PAF) had not been entirely successful in achieving this latter goal, and that its wording needed to be clarified.

Senate was reminded that the Disruptions to Study Policy had not been designed to handle issues arising from long term chronic illness or disability. Instead a Disability Support Policy is under development, which is designed to support students who are experiencing long-term disruptions. This will provide students, academics and support staff with a much clearer account of, and a process of upfront agreement to, the course of action which would be taken to address registered disabilities and chronic illness. At the same time this policy will provide greater certainty, for all parties, in regard to the provision of reasonable adjustments for examinations.

If you have any particular thoughts on these matters, or wish to get involved, please contact the working party chair Ian Robertson (ian.robertson at mq.edu.au). The working group is presenting its findings to a meeting of SLTC and will be engaging more broadly with the University community over the coming months.

Project Census date

Senate endorsed a proposal submitted by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Academic to move forward the census date from 36 days to 25 days effective from Session 1, 2016.

As a result of this change, Macquarie’s census dates will be aligned with those of other institutions and will provide opportunities to better allocate resources. Senate expressed concern about the impact on early assessment, and noted that the Assessment Policy currently encourages Unit Convenors to provide feedback to students prior to census date. It was reminded that this had been introduced to enable students to make more informed decisions about their study choices while they could still make enrolment decisions without penalty.

Senate referred this latter issue to the Assessment Policy working group SLTC, which will re-consider how policy on early assessment should be modified to account for the change in census dates.

Student Academic Code of Conduct

Subject to some changes being made by General Counsel, Senate approved the Student Academic Code of Conduct which formally articulates expected standards of academic behaviour. This is one of the last steps in a major overhaul of all the University’s student discipline rules and procedures. The Student Academic Code of Conduct aims to better align with the style of the more recent Student Code of Conduct and with the new Student Discipline Rules and Procedures which will become effective in Session 2, 2015. Once the changes have been made and formally approved by the Chair of Academic Senate, the Academic Code of Conduct will formally replace the Academic Honesty Policy.

It should be noted that the Code has not been written to be a positive statement of good academic citizenship – and nor should it be. The Code is a document which parametrises those behaviours which students could be penalised for under the Student Discipline Rule.

As a separate matter, we now turn our minds to producing a positive statement of good academic citizenship. This should reflect the institution’s values and explain to students why observing good principles of personal and academic integrity are so important.

We will be assisted in this work by Dr Bretag, who will be returning to Macquarie later in the year to work with Senate’s academic integrity working party and other stakeholders.

Committees of Academic Senate Update

The transfer of the Quality Enhancement Committee from an Executive Committee to a Committee of Academic Senate, and the expected creation of the Research Committee have provided a timely opportunity to rationalise and re-distribute responsibilities between all Committees of Senate.

Senate approved new terms of reference for the Senate Learning and Teaching, Quality Enhancement and Academic Standard and Quality Committees. These implement recommendations arising from last year’s Academic Governance Workshop and a subsequent review of all Senate Committees to align them with the new Senate Committee standing orders. Senate also resolved to disestablish the Curriculum Standards Framework Committee which was tasked with researching, developing and maintaining the University’s Curriculum Quality Standards Framework.

This framework will now be developed and project managed by the Learning and Teaching Centre (LTC) and that work will be overseen by a steering group comprising the Associate Deans (Quality and Standards), the Director of the LTC and members of SLTC and ASQC as appropriate. The Steering Group will regularly report on its activities to the Quality Enhancement Committee, which will act as the conduit for the approval and adoption of components of this framework.

Student Fellows

This was the first meeting for our newly elected student cohort of Senate, and I am pleased to report that, for the first time in quite a few years, Senate has been close to its full complement of student representatives.

Simon, Anna and Jeremey

In past years, student representatives on Senate have rarely been supported to make an effective and influential contribution. So, following the governance workshops I undertook to introduce new mechanisms to improve the level of genuine student engagement in academic governance.

One of the first measures identified to assist in rectifying this problem was to pair each student representative with an academic staff mentor drawn from the Senate membership. This initiative has been met with strong enthusiasm from potential mentors, and everyone I’ve approached has been very happy to be involved.

We have also introduced a pre-Senate briefing meeting, attended by student representatives, their mentors and myself. These provide an opportunity for us to go through the Senate agenda together, identify issues of particular student interest and work to ensure that these matters are appropriately highlighted at the Senate meeting itself.

We are also looking for ways to better reward and recognise students for their involvement in the University’s Academic Governance. As a first step, the governance workshops recommended recognising the status of student representatives by re-framing their role as “Student Fellowship”. I will be putting a formal resolution to Senate to this effect at a subsequent meeting.

I am greatly looking forward to working closely with the students, hearing their contributions and helping them to bring the student voice to the table.

Next meeting

Due to the large number of apologies received the July Senate meeting has been cancelled. In its place, the Academic Senate Standing Committee has met to discharge urgent business.

At the next Senate meeting on 25 August, we will hold two significant strategic discussions, on the governance challenges raised by Learning and Teaching Framework and on the academic governance of research and research training. At that time the draft Learning and Teaching White Paper will be available for members to consider, as will a proposed terms of reference for a new research committee of Senate.

Until next time…