April Senate Summary – the 5 top issues

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was celebrating an extra two days of mathematics in Harvard Square, after a raging blizzard cancelled my flight out of Boston. Alas, that was over 3 months ago, and since then the business of Senate has advanced at a cracking pace.

Hooray, more Maths!

We are now well advanced on the project of implementing the recommendations that arose out of last year’s Academic Governance Workshops. These include a number of initiatives that focus on making Senate processes, and those of its committees, more effective, accessible and transparent. I won’t say more about these in this post, since I should really report here on events at the last Senate meeting, but I will report on these changes in a series of posts to this blog over the next few months.

So with that, I present to you the first Senate Summary of 2015. I’ll do my best to keep it brief, but I encourage you to dig deeper into the Senate papers for a more lengthy explanation, or to speak to me if you have a question about any issue.

New membership

Late last year, elections were held for Faculty elected representatives on Academic Senate. Its newly elected membership has been appointed for a 2-year term and has now completed an induction process, that has included an orientation meeting hosted by the Vice-Chancellor and myself and a series of 1-on-1 meetings with the Chair. All elected members are now encouraged to take up membership of one of Senate’s committees (SLTC, ASQC, QEC, HDRC or Research) and these appointments will be approved at Senate’s June and July meetings.

I strongly urge you to get to know your elected Senate members and to raise any concerns you have with them. It is only with your help that they can bring fresh ideas, initiatives and concerns to the Senate table.

Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences

Professor Patrick McNeil, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences made a presentation outlining the academic structure, plans for academic programs, and broader strategic direction of the new Faculty. At this meeting, Senate also approved a new program, the Bachelor of Clinical Science, which will be owned by the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Outside Studies Program (OSP) Policy

Senate approved amendments to the OSP Policy. These changes are summarised on page 54 of the Senate agenda and are marked up in detail on pages 65-69.

Overall, the policy revisions aim to provide greater flexibility and access to OSP for research active staff. For example, the minimum time allowed for the external component of an OSP plan is now set at one month, where it had previously been two months. This is in recognition of the difficulties that some staff members, particularly those with family responsibilities, face when organising long periods of external OSP. The maximum number of research active staff allowed on OSP at any one time has also been increased from 10 to 14 per cent.

These changes will apply to the current round of OSP applications, which opened on 7 May 2015. The Research Office has now circulated further information regarding application process, and those wishing to go on OSP in 2016 should contact their Heads of Department for information as soon as possible.

Academic Senate is currently in the process of establishing a new Research Committee, tasked with assisting Senate in discharging its signficant responsibilities in regard to the research mission of the University. Once this commences operations, it will be tasked with overseeing the operation of the OSP policy.

Review of the Assessment, Grading and Final Examination Policies

Last year, SLTC established a working group to review the Assessment, Grading and Final Examination Policies. The working group considered opportunities for liberalising these policies, examined points of failure and inconsistency, and identified matters in which the current policy base is completely silent. These issues were discussed at a workshop dubbed the “Festival of Assessment” in December last year. It proved a productive session, the hallmark of which was its spirit of willingness to review and revise our current approach to assessment.

Since that time, members of the working group have developed draft Principles of Assessment (pp 42-43 of Senate agenda), which will underpin the new policy. The new policy will be more aspirational in nature but will articulate minimum standards that must be met. In acknowledgement of the fact that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to Assessment Policy isn’t effective, Faculties and Departments will be tasked with documenting how they will meet these minimum standards in their discipline specific context.

Senate endorsed:

  1. the amalgamation of three existing policies (Assessment, Grading and Final Examinations) into one single overarching policy;
  2. the spirit of the draft Principles of Assessment and tasked SLTC with further refinement
  3. the development of a policy that specifically aligns with the Principles of Assessment and issues identified in the discussion paper

SLTC will put together a timeline for the development of this Policy with a dead line for introduction by the beginning of Session 1, 2016.

The working group will draft a policy and accompanying procedural documents for further consultation with staff and students in the next month ot two. A separate blog post will follow once these documents are ready for circulation.

Academic Progression and Students at Risk

Senate discussed the immediate need to improve the University’s current approach to identifying and supporting students (both international and domestic) who are at risk of not meeting academic progression requirements stipulated under the General Coursework Rules.

This is an important topic and not least, in the lead up to TEQSA re-registration in 2016, because the University carries specific responsibilities to monitor and respond to issues in student progression under its regulatory obligations.

I recommend that you read a complete account of the issues on pages 44-51 of the Senate agenda. In brief, Macquarie does not have a policy that governs the identification of students at risk of exclusion, or an early identification support and remedial action plan to improve the student’s chances of success prior to exclusion.

There exists a wealth of research about student retention, success and completion, much of which provide strong pointers to the ways that resources are best applied for maximum gain. Crucially all such recommendations involve a combination of enhancing student experience and engagement, keeping students informed of their progress and providing easy access to fallback support services. There is compelling evidence that experiencing a strong ‘sense of belonging’ supported by connections with peers, teachers and disciplines are key factors in student engagement and success. Most importantly, student engagement can be carefully nurtured by taking deliberate, systematic actions to support it.

Senate agreed to:

  1. Amend the General Coursework Rules to allow for a graduated system of intervention based upon a nuanced measure of academic standing, the introduction of a suspension process and the reservation of the notion of exclusion for exceptional cases only.
  2. Task SLTC with developing an Academic Progression Policy (and associated procedures), which will detail the structure of a graduated system of academic progress intervention and conditions under which they will apply.

Next meeting

The next Senate meeting will be held on 2 June, when we will be devoting a significant portion of our time to a strategic discussion on the topic of Academic Integrity. The specific question to answer here is “how can the University encourage a strong and systemic appreciation of academic integrity principles and practice within its student body”. We will also be considering a resolution calling for the introduction of compulsory academic integrity training in all academic programs.

Looking ahead, the 14 July Senate meeting will be devoted to workshopping the feedback from the Learning and Teaching green paper, considering an early draft of the white paper, and analysing Academic Senate’s governance responsibilities in regard to its implementation. In the meantime, I strongly encourage all staff to attend one of the PVC L&T’s roadshow sessions and to bring your thoughts (or indeed concerns) to your Senate representatives.

Until next time…