Senate Report: July 6, 2020

An update on the most recent SFU Senate meeting

Written by: Michelle Young, Staff Writer

Petter responds to questions regarding the name change of SFU Athletics’ team, “The Clan”

During the question period, Senator Erika Plettner inquired about the SFU Athletics team name “The Clan.” “We ask what efforts to change that name have been initiated and what the approximate timeline of such a change would be,” said Plettner. 

SFU President and Senate Chair Andrew Petter responded: “It’s unfortunate that the term ‘clan’ was appropriated by a racist organization in [the US] and that that has created some real difficulties for our athletes [ . . . ] But to change the name because of a racist organization could be seen as succumbing to the hegemony of a racist organization, so it’s been a complex issue.” 

Petter added, “I think what’s really changed is the strong weight of opinion of our student athletes” and said a process to decide whether to change the name started in January. “A report, hopefully should be into me by the end of [July], no later than the beginning of [August] and as soon as it comes to me I am committed to making a decision.” 

Question regarding proctoring software

During the question period, Student Senator Gabe Liosis said students were concerned about the use of online invigilation software. According to Liosis, students “were reporting in high numbers” that professors requiring the use of these softwares, stated this requirement past the withdrawal date. Liosis also added that students’ accessibility resources may be limited. 

Following these statements, Liosis asked why instructors were able to require the use of proctoring software past withdrawal deadlines. 

It is “the responsibility and right of the instructor to select appropriate methods of assessment” and there is “an expectation [ . . . ] to limit, or preferably eliminate, the opportunity for academic dishonesty,” Vice-President, Academic and Provost pro tem Jonathan Driver responded. 

Driver added that SFU normally does not require instructors to inform students of the “exact format of assessment” before the course begins or early into the semester — instructors only need to provide the grade distribution. “For the Summer term of 2020, under exceptional circumstances, we did require instructors to inform students if exams would be conducted using [ . . . ] proctoring software [because] such programs are [ . . . ] more intrusive than students would experience on a final exam,” Driver said. 

Driver also said instructors may use video conferencing software for exams, as it falls within SFU policies and that “students can request accommodation, if they wish.” 

Inquiries on the use of Zoom 

At the start of the question period, Student Senator Bryan Daniel inquired as to whether the use of Zoom had been vetted by SFU, which measures have been taken to address Zoom’s risks, and what is being done to “ensure that any recordings are being processed properly.” 

Driver confirmed that the use of Zoom had been vetted, noting that “SFU’s office of General Counsel has reviewed the use of Zoom with regard to privacy impacts and has determined legal risks are within an acceptable range.” 

Chief Information Officer Mark Roman elaborated on the steps taken to address the risks of Zoom. Roman said that while many privacy issues remain with Zoom’s free version, the Zoom purchased by SFU — the enterprise software — has “superior privacy and security built into it.” Roman added that this version of Zoom had been “assessed for risk” and security features have been added “following industry best-practice recommendations.”

Regarding the security of recordings, Roman stated that on “the enterprise versions of Zoom, recordings are stored locally, not on Zoom’s server.”

Driver responds to questions regarding asynchronous learning

Senator Liosis stated that the SFSS has called on SFU to “mandate asynchronous learning in all courses that do not absolutely require an in-person or synchronous teaching method.” Liosis said that leaving the choice up to individual instructors “fails to recognize the diverse learning methods and needs of students who are facing extreme difficulty trying to learn at home.”

Liosis inquired, “how can students’ needs for asynchronous learning be met [ . . . ] to ensure [a] stronger, more centralized approach to teaching at SFU?” 

Driver said that it is the decision of the instructors to select “the most appropriate method of instruction.” Driver added, “opinions of students do, indeed, vary” and cited advantages to synchronous and asynchronous learning — such as real-time discussion for synchronous learning and convenience for asynchronous learning.  

“Under normal circumstances, the university runs on both synchronous and asynchronous activity. It’s not unusual to expect students to show up for certain events, and then for students to manage their own time,” stated Driver, who also cited data from a Summer 2020 survey suggesting that the majority of students have a preference for a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous learning. 

Lastly, Driver said, “I anticipate that we will not be issuing any instructions that all courses need to be asynchronous [ . . . ] The instructor needs to determine what is best for students [ . . . ] and I think we need to respect students’ desire for interaction with each other and with the instructor.” 

The next regular Senate Meeting will take place on September 14, 2020