Enacting change through university politics
Like all organizations, the University of Waterloo has a hierarchy of power; however, this administration is much larger than what you are used to at high school. Where you came from it was wholly possible to be on a first name basis with your principal and vice-principal, while you will have to be a very special or involved student to be familiar to the upper echelon of power that resides within Needles Hall. Though you may not know them personally, they are working for you, to improve the quality of your education and atmosphere at the university. Therefore, it stands to reason that you should try to understand how that power structure works since, although you won’t necessarily navigate these power pathways, you will be paying their salaries. If you are an ambitious person and see something that could be changed for the better, then understanding the power structure at this university can help you have an impact.
The university is operated by a senior administration run by Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Waterloo. President Hamdullahpur provides leadership in all matters internal and external, and shapes the vision and strategy of the university. Five positions directly report to him, vice-presidents of academics & provost, university research, university relations, and administration and finance and the Secretary of the University. The day-to-day operations of the university are run by these offices.
Sallie Ann Keller is the second-in-command at the university as VP academic & provost. Her position is the most centralized in the senior administration structure. All the associate provosts, who run most of the services that affect students, as well as faculty deans, librarians, co-op director, and others report to Keller. She is probably the most informed person on the whole campus.
The daily operations of the university are run by this group out of Needles Hall, but the vision and policies that govern the school are formed by three main factions: the Board of Governors, the Senate, and the Federation of Students. When “change” happens at the school it is spurred by one of these factions, though it may be presented by senior administration officials or even a first-year student.
According to the overarching University of Waterloo act, the school’s affairs are ultimately managed by the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors is enabled to enact bylaws and create committees. The board has 36 members, 3 of which are undergraduate student representatives, serving two-year terms. These members are typically appointed from faculty, the senate, or the community. They use their committees to plan the physical and operational development of the university, regulate the use of all the grounds and buildings, as well as the conduct of everyone at the university, oversee the financial health of the university, and appoint all senior officials including the heads of your faculties.
The Senate, on the other hand, has the power to establish the educational policies of the University and to make recommendations to the Board of Governors with respect to any matter relative to the operation of the University. Many of the policies won’t affect you during your career as a student, as they govern the operations of full-time staff, but you won’t soon forget policy 71 which governs student ethics, as you are reminded in every course syllabus. The senate is chaired by President Feridun Hamdullahpur, and has 64 members, with faculty members having a majority stake in this organization. Undergraduate students have one representative from each faculty, two at-large positions. All of these positions are two-year terms elected during the same time as Feds’ elections.
While it might seem imperative to have the ear of these bodies in order for any proposed “change” to occur, you don’t have to be involved. Most “change” at the university happens slowly over time with lots of ideas permeating at the grass-roots level of student committees that are eventually adopted into practice. Hard and fast change by university administration, Board of Governors, and Senate, can be met with harsh criticism and be rejected.
Such was the case when the university administration changed the logo and colour scheme of the school without enough input from the university community. Students, faculty, and alumni spoke so harshly of the change that the senior administration was forced to retract a change that took months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.
The Federation of Students (Feds) was established to promote the welfare and interests of the student body to the university administration. Feds is the official voice of the student populous on campus. The President, Andrew Noble, represents students to the University administration, Senate, and Board of Governors, and has three vice-presidents that report to him. The VP admin & finance, Prashant Kumar Patel, oversees the financial and administrative aspects of the corporation; the VP education, Adam Garcia, helps students with academic and co-op issues and lobbies all levels of government to promote student-friendly policy; and the VP internal, Alexandra Russell, maintains and improves student life programs and services.
All of these executive work alongside a council which includes representatives from all faculties. The number of seats in each constituency being calculated by a formula based on enrolment. The council currently has five arts positions, five engineering positions, five math positions, four science positions, two AHS positions, two environment positions, and one each from architecture, St. Jerome’s, Renison, and Kitchener. Each of these positions are elected in the winter term.
While you may never sit on a board of governor nor senate committee, it is quite possible for you to be involved in a Feds committee or commission, or even university-level committee — which are overseen by various senior administration personnel. Every body of power has committees to enable decision-making. If you desire to make changes to any aspect of student life you should get involved.
You can get involved in the political arena immediately by contacting the Feds president or VP internal to find out what opportunities are available. Feds is mainly staffed by volunteers, so there are many opportunities to get engaged. There are many great committees and commissions to test the water with, such as the first year commission, which serves as an advocate and liaison between first years and the Federation of Students. The commission helps plan events for first-years and works to improve the communication between first-years and Feds.
If you want to expand your influence outside of Feds you can join committees such as the Student Services Advisory Committee — which administrates that student service fee you pay each term, or the Undergraduate Student Relations Committee — which reviews university policies directed at students.
Even if student politicking isn’t your preference, you can still enact “change” on a more social or cultural level. The Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), GLOW: The Queer and Questioning Community Centre, UW Sustainability Project (UWSP), and the International Student Connection (ISC), all have on-going initiatives to try and improve student life. There are also over 200 Feds clubs and societies that can use your enthusiasm and cater to your interests.
All in all, if there is something you think can be done better on campus, there are a multitude of pathways to push for your “change” to be adopted. All you have to do is put yourself out there and get involved.