Senate Report: September 13, 2021

The Senate motions to hire 15 Black faculty at SFU, and discusses vaccine enforcement on campus

AQ with blue skies
PHOTO: Allyson Klassen / The Peak

By: Victoria Lopatka, Staff Writer

Motion to Hire 15 Black Faculty at SFU 

The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) president Gabe Liosis brought forward the motion to hire more Black faculty at SFU on behalf of former SFSS president, Osob Mohamed. The motion includes the following actions

  • Recognize and support Black History Month and the International Decade for People of African Descent,
  • Recognize the contributions of SFU’s Black faculty, staff, and students,
  • Support the implementation of a hiring initiative that would result in “15 tenure-track Black faculty” being hired across all faculties and disciplines at SFU, 
  • “Recognize harm and trauma that Black faculty and staff have faced due to the systemic and institutional racism that has existed at SFU” and implement further supports for current “Black faculty, students, and staff,”
  • And consult the SFU Black community in the implementation of these changes to ensure they are beneficial “for Black faculty, staff, and students.”

Liosis noted, due to a minimal number of Black faculty at SFU, many students have never had a Black professor and, thus, do not have the opportunity to hear about Black experiences first-hand. Senators noted there is currently no data regarding the amount of Black faculty at SFU. Mohamed, Balqees Jama, and Dr. June Francis, were allowed to speak for two minutes each on the subject.

Mohamed spoke about institutional racism at SFU, and its occurrence in all aspects of student life, including in the classroom and in meetings. She shared she has never had a Black instructor at SFU, or anyone who reflected the same background as her. 

“I really do believe that this is going to be an opportunity to actually walk the walk,” Mohamed said. “SFU has made a new commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion [ . . . ] this is the time to see that commitment come to life.” 

Jama, president of SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry, said, “Black students are experiencing SFU in a way that is not equitable.” She shared experiences of being tokenized, experiencing racist and violent discussions in class, feeling isolated in the SFU community, and seeing racial bias in all disciplines. She noted certain departments make “sweeping generalizations about Black communities” and center white research. 

“It’s a dream of mine and so many of my Black peers to have people to connect with,” she said.

Dr. Francis, special advisor to the president and a member of the SFU community for over 30 years, described Black students at SFU as “invisible,” and their thoughts, traditions, and experiences being “erased.” She also shared SFU has not been a welcoming place for her ideas, perspectives, and goals.

Multiple senators raised questions regarding where the 15 faculty positions, as well as the funding to support such initiatives, would come from, and expressed interest in a more formal plan. It was noted any financial decisions will need to be made by the Board of Governors.

Through a vote, the motion was carried. 

COVID-19 Safety Measures on Campuses 

The Senate meeting opened with discussions of COVID-19 health and safety, including mandatory masks in public indoor areas and declaration of vaccination status. On August 27, SFU sent out an email survey asking for student, staff, and faculty’s vaccine status, with over 22,000 responses recorded. Of the 22,000, roughly 1% of respondents declared they are not vaccinated. 

Vice president academic and provost Catherine Dauvergne announced they were tentatively aiming to begin rapid screening unvaccinated students and students who did not disclose vaccination status in late September. SFU is planning to audit survey responses and is taking steps to ensure all students can access the online survey. 

Campus spaces have also been assessed on ventilation potential, and those falling short of necessary requirements are not being used, Dauvergne noted. She also discussed the addition of technology in classrooms to allow for recording “to support students who we hope will not come to campus if they are not feeling well.” The choice to record lectures remains with individual professors.

For convocation, SFU is opting for multiple, small ceremonies, rather than few, large ceremonies, and will be checking attendees’ proof of vaccination. 

Shafik Bhalloo, associate professor in the Beedie School of Business, raised concerns about SFU’s current system of vaccine declaration. “This is not a mandatory vaccination policy, this is not even a proof [of] vaccination policy either — it is only a policy only based on the honour system, based on the hope that students, staff, and instructors will be honest in declaring their vaccination status.” Bhalloo asked whether SFU will implement a vaccine mandate, require proof of vaccination, and if those with “legitimate exemption” would be allowed to remain unvaccinated.   

Dauvergne responded that, at this time, SFU will not be making vaccines mandatory, as, among other reasons, “the province has specifically asked all post-secondary institutions not to exceed the guidelines of the Provincial Health Office.” 

The next regular Senate Meeting will take place on October 4, 2021.