On April 6th the annual meeting of the General Academic Assembly (GAA) took place.
The GAA is a component of University governance established by the University of Saskatchewan Act. It is composed of all faculty members, specific University administrators, and several student representatives, with the President of the University serving as chair. Quorum is 150 members. The GAA is required to meet once per year. At this meeting, the President reports on the state of the University and any other matters that the President considers appropriate.
This year’s GAA was a disappointing affair. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to join colleagues from across campus and engage in an open dialogue between the highest level of University administration and faculty members, administration chose to make it an exercise in managing a message.
While it is challenging to enable full participation in online or even hybrid gatherings, which was how this year’s GAA was held, the President missed an opportunity. Rather than choosing ways to help provide a forum for active engagement in university governance that somehow went missing during the pandemic, choices for conducting the meeting reinforced disconnection. Participants were invisible, except for the few who attended in person, and they saw only each other, not anyone who attended virtually. Anyone attending virtually saw only the President on screen and efforts had been made to ensure that the Zoom participants were hidden from view as was the participants list.
Participants were invisible and so too were many questions. Those attending remotely were invited to submit questions through the chat feature. However, the chat was hidden. Only questions selected and put to the President for a response were made known to those in attendance. In addition, the meeting was held to a strict one-hour time limit and submitted questions, though acknowledged, went unanswered.
The Secretary stated that quorum was not reached. Participants who attended in person say there were only around ten there. Choices made to keep participants and questions invisible, to end the GAA after only one hour only, and to select just a few questions for the President to answer, reinforce optics that our university is no longer a community in which we hear from colleagues and discuss and debate issues important to our university.