How does it feel to share ultimate power?

2018-02-27-joanne-stephan-6-web

Have you ever wondered who decides which degrees should be offered at Macquarie, or which students should be granted special consideration? The answer is Academic Senate – a group of Very Important People that the University Council (a.k.a the Super Very Important People) has bestowed powers on to make decisions about academic matters at Macquarie.

Among the Senate members are a very special group of students who are elected by their fellow Macquarie students to represent them in Senate decisions.  We caught up with Simon Populin, who’s coming to the end of his second term as a student member, to learn more about his mysterious Senate powers.

So, being a member of Academic Senate sounds pretty intense. What does it actually involve?
Well, the main requirement is attending Senate meetings, which happen seven times a year.

As a member, you can also sit on the various Senate committees and working groups. This is where your real influence is, and it’s definitely worth being on them. I’m on the Disciplinary Committee, which considers real cases of alleged student misconduct, and I also sat on the committee that developed the University’s new assessment policy. It was great to be able to bring the student view to the committee’s discussions, so that they could understand how each of the proposed changes would impact students.

What’s the time commitment for a student Senate member?
I usually take an hour or two to prepare for Senate meetings – going over the agenda and reading any discussion material that is particularly relevant. The bigger time commitment is with the committees – the assessment policy committee involved two full days of drafting work followed by multiple meetings in the months following.

Like any commitment, you’ve just got be good at managing your time. But you do have control of how much you want to get involved.

What are the Senate meetings like? Is there a lot of disagreement? I think a lot of people imagine the Senate to be quite adversarial. There’s occasional disagreements for sure, but overall it’s incredibly collegial and there are some really interesting discussions that happen there.  I was particularly impressed by how Kevin Jameson [Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)] led a discussion about the Academic Senate response to the plebiscite on same-sex marriage. Despite the range of views, it was incredibly respectful and civil.

I think students would also be surprised at how open the Senate – and the University’s leadership team is in general – is to hearing the student view. We’re not just there for lip service. They’re also increasingly finding ways to consult students as part of their processes, through things like student focus groups, which is great.

What have you gained from being a member of Senate?
Senate meetings give you a great insight into how a boardroom works. You learn how to make a good case, or present an argument, in a room full of influential people. You become more comfortable in that kind of environment.

It’s also been good to get a better understanding of how the University works, and to know who’s who in the University Executive. When you see a problem or issue, you’re able to bring it to the attention of the right people.

What advice would you give to students who are considering nominating themselves for Senate?
You’ve got to be in it for the right reasons. Like all student representative positions, it should be approached as an act of service to your fellow students, although you can get a lot out of it personally as well.

Some students might be intimidated by the Senate election process, but they needn’t be. I’d encourage people to go for it and just put their name in the hat. At the end of the day, students have limited control when it comes to how our University is run. We should do what we can to influence things and drive positive change, and making sure we’ve got good student representation on the Senate is one of the ways we can do that.


Nominations open this Wednesday 21 March for student representatives to the Academic Senate. See the official notice for information on how to nominate.

Then, in May, all Macquarie students will be invited to elect student representatives to the Senate, via a personalised voting link that will be sent to your student email.

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