Re: Faculty of Arts Governance Committee call for submissions

Heidi Levitt (
Sun, 7 Dec 1997 17:50:52 -0500 (EST)

I am not sure if this is the appropriate committee to which to
submit this suggestion. I am a doctoral student and have been very
involved in my department as a student representative, listening to
student issues and thinking about ways to structure chair-faculty
interactions in relation to this. This suggestion is driven by student
concerns though and as I am not sure if your committee is meant to focus
on faculty concerns in department and university structure, I am not sure
if this is appropriate but thought I would present it and let you decide.
It seems that in many departments there are no guidelines on what
is reasonable in terms of supervision practice. Some supervisors meet
with students weekly, some meet once a year. Some supervisors return
papers after a week, some take six months. Some supervisors encourage
their honours students to publish their work as first authors while others
try to discourage their doctoral students from publishing or tell them
they must be the second author of their work. I know students who have
had great experiences here at York, but other talented students have had
their careers delayed by years.
I have spoke with some faculty who think that students
who have issues with their supervisors should take this up with their
department heads as individual cases, but my experience as a graduate
student is that in about 90% of these cases students will opt not to risk
threatening their relationship with their supervisor if at all possible.
I know of students who have suffered through with supervisors who take 6
months to return each draft of their work, who have been physically
abusive, who have had supervisors publish their work without giving them
authorship recognition and who have not sought out intervention.
Supervisors are important references for scholarships, for internships and
for jobs and students will rarely risk the threat of compromising their
futures. The issue of adequate supervision needs to be addressed by the
university and needs to be regarded as a serious concern within
departments as the responsibility of the departments.
Inadequate supervision costs the university money, as graduate
students do not graduate as quickly as they could. It also limits the
publishing potential of students, who would at times rather not publish
than engage in a authorship battle with their superivsors, and as such
affects the reputation of York as a university with a scholarly student
population. It also costs graduate students in terms of years of their
lives, tuition money and marketability when they graduate with fewer
publications. When written this way, I feel can sound like I am
overstating a problem, but for the many students who experience this it is
very serious indeed and I am very concerned.
I would like to suggest that Chairs of each department take
on the role of developing guidelines for supervision in which they would
describe supervision that is desirable, that is adequate and that is
inadequate. This should be done in intra-departmental committees
composed of faculty and graduate students. Graduate students in each
department may be entitled to different forms of supervision and the
unique aspects of departments can be recognized in this way.
Although I feel the establishment of guidelines like this would be
very beneficial in and of itself, as it would provide a resource for
faculty and students in deciding what is fair and proper superivision, I
feel that few students still would feel comfortable approaching programme
chairs if these guidelines are breached. Instead I feel it should be the
responsiblity of the department to encourage the desirable guidelines.
Annual individual meetings of all faculty with the chair would be
advisable. These meetings could be set up to discuss with the faculty
their experience as supervisors. Faculty who require support maintaining
a reasonable level of supervision could use these meetings to seek advice
or alternate ways of compensating. Programme directors can also provide
advice if the faculty have some difficult students who they are having a
hard time superivising. The major functions of these meetings are that
faculty who are performing well can be recognized and could potentially
give the chair ideas to pass onto other faculty, faculty who are having
difficulty can receive support, and faculty who are negligent can learn to
self-monitor and to begin to internalize a set of standards about
It seems that this would be advantageous on many levels. The main
drawback is that it could take a lot of the chairs time to meet with the
faculty and review these guidelines with them and ask them how they
experience their own functioning. One way to get around this in
larger departments could be to have the area heads within a department
meet with the faculty within their area and then for the area heads and
the chair to meet in order to discuss the role of supervision
within the department as a whole.
There may be other ways to institute some practices such as this
into the departments. Perhaps there could be a faculty member outside of
the chair who is responsible for being a resource person for other faculty
members with regards to graduate student supervision and who could assist
the chair in the annual faculty meetings? I think that the
institution of practices like these on a formalized university-wide level
are necessary and could help to improve the experiences of graduate
students and faculty alike. As well, innovations like this could allow
graduate students to publish more, complete their degrees sooner and
so act to save the university money.

Heidi Levitt

> Hello everyone!
> I am sending you the announcement titled, "Committee on Governance -
> Call for Submissions" which was written by Robert J. Drummond, and
> published in the Faculty of Arts Newsletter.
> << This summer the Council of the Faculty of Arts established an ad hoc
> Committee on Governance which is to recommend to Council "how Council
> may best establish a more democratic, inclusive, accountable and
> collegial governance of the Faculty." Council empowered the Committee
> to receive submissions and to consult widely, in order to clarify the
> existing situation and to recommend innovations. In particular, the
> Committee is to "consider the role of Departmental and Divisional
> Chairs in the governance of the Faculty, the structure and composition
> of the Council and its committees, and the selection, appointment and
> evaluation of the Dean and Associate Deans."
> The Committee has begun meeting and would like to take this opportunity
> to invite submissions from members of Council on any aspect of the
> general question of Faculty governance, and/or the particular matters
> we are enjoined to consider. We would prefer to receive submissions in
> writing but will entertain requests to meet with the committee in
> person. (We have already undertaken to meet with the Department and
> Division Chairs.)
> Submissions may be addressed to any member of the Committee, or to the
> Secretary of Council, Marla Chodak, and sent c/o Ms Chodak, S928A Ross.
> E-mail communications will be received by all members of the Committee
> simultaneously if sent to
> Members of the Committee include: Professor
> (emeritus) D. Bakan; Professor R. Drummond; Mr. D. Greenberg; Ms S.
> Kociper; Professor G. Monette; Professor A. Pilgrim; and Dr. L.Young.>>
> You may contact me personally by email at:
> Anonymous submissions to the committee could be accepted.
> Lelia Young
> French Studies
> N 710 Ross
> Ext. 330183
> Derek Hrynyshyn,
> Graduate Program in Political Science,
> York University, North York Ont.
> Communications Officer for CUPE local 3903.
> Union Office: 736-5154 fax 736-5480