Re: “Apathy or lack of awareness?” by Jemma Wolfe [Published Jan. 31, 2013 in Opinions] 

By Helen Ayre, McMaster University Acting University Secretary and Freedom of Information Officer

In her article “Apathy or lack of awareness?” published in the January 31, 2013 edition of The Silhouette, Student Senator Jemma Wolfe makes some very important points about the significance of the elections of undergraduate and graduate student representatives to the University’s governing bodies. As Ms Wolfe points out, student representative seats on McMaster’s Board of Governors and the Senate are instrumental in ensuring that both undergraduate and graduate students have a voice in the academic and financial governance of the University. Ms Wolfe is to be commended for her efforts to raise awareness of and interest in the various elections for student representatives on University bodies. Participation on these bodies is an important service to fellow students and to the University. I would urge all students to participate at every opportunity either by standing for election or, at the very least, by casting their vote.

However, some of the information provided in Ms. Wolfe’s article requires clarification.

Student members of the Board of Governors, Senate, and University Planning Committee serve two-year terms (or until they graduate or withdraw from the University, whichever is the shorter period). The primary (Spring) election period is held between January 15 to March 31; any vacancies that still exist in the first week in September are filled in the secondary (Fall) election period which must be completed by October 31.

There are sixteen students elected to serve on the governing bodies. Twelve student representatives serve on Senate – one undergraduate and one graduate student from each of the six Faculties: Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Humanities, Science, and Social Sciences. Two students, one undergraduate and one graduate, serve on each of the Board of Governors and the University Planning Committee. The two-year terms are staggered so that roughly half of the terms end in any given year. In a typical year, then, about eight student vacancies are expected to be filled. In addition to these vacancies, occasionally student representatives graduate at the end of the first year of their terms and new members are elected to finish the final year of those terms.

During the 2011 Spring elections, there were eight student vacancies on Senate (four undergraduate and four graduate student seats), and one undergraduate student vacancy on the Board of Governors. Five seats were filled during the Spring elections. The remaining four vacancies, along with three additional seats that had become vacant over the summer (because the incumbents had graduated) were filled in the 2011 Fall elections. Students elected in those Fall elections took up their seats immediately, meaning those seats were vacant for a total of two months while Senate was in session. The 2012 Spring election successfully filled all eight vacancies for student representatives to the governing bodies, and that year there was no need for a secondary Fall election.

Eight student members of the Board and Senate will be completing their two-year terms on June 30, 2013. As a result, there are eight vacancies for student representative on the Board of Governors and the Senate to be filled in the 2013 Spring Elections. The successful candidates will take up their positions on July 1, 2013 and serve until June 30, 2015.

It is true that acclamations in elections to the University’s governing bodies are more common than we would like. However, acclamations do not always occur simply because “no one else applied.” Although we take steps to ensure that students are aware of the eligibility requirements, we sometimes receive nomination forms from students who are not eligible to run in that particular election in that year. This occasionally results in a vacancy being filled by acclamation because not enough eligible candidates come forward.

Whether the elections are held in the Spring or the Fall, it is always difficult to capture the attention of the constituents for the student elections. For this reason, the University Secretariat advertises the student vacancies on the Board of Governors, the Senate, and the University Planning Committee in several ways. The call for nominations and the slate of candidates are advertised in The Silhouette at key times during the election period. Notices are posted on the Daily News, the McMaster Update, the University Secretariat website, the University Secretariat’s bulletin board, and on Avenue to Learn throughout the election period. Notices are sent out to all the Faculty Deans, Associate Deans, Chairs of Departments and Directors of Schools, and others to assist in advertising the positions as widely as possible. Throughout the election period, notices and reminders are also sent out to the MSU and its President and to all MSU Clubs, to the GSA and its President, to MAPS, and to all the Faculty student associations with requests to post the notices in offices and circulate the election information to all students in their constituencies. And when the voter lists are set, every eligible voter receives an e-mail at their McMaster e-mail address about the election and follow-up reminders up until voting closes at the end of the last voting day.

Elections for student members of Senate and the Board of Governors will be held on Tuesday March 19 and Wednesday March 20 – Be sure to vote!

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