Does Faculty Council Need a New Constitution?

Shari Nathan (3L) & Aidan Campbell (3L)

You may have missed it, but, at the bottom of a UV article from last spring (Faculty Council: “Who’s Robert?”), we reported on a strange exchange about whether Faculty Council needed a written constitution and if anything more than Robert’s Rules of Order is necessary in terms of procedure for the meetings.  

At the February 2017 meeting of Faculty Council, SLS VP StAG Katie Longo (as she was then) pointed out that many students are unsure of how Faculty Council works and that this problem is especially concerning for SLS representatives who sit on Faculty Council.

Dean Iacobucci admitted that this issue had been raised in the past, but said there was no need for a unified written constitution. This response drew criticism from constitutional law scholar Professor David Schneiderman, who stressed the need for a written document and suggested that Faculty Council should start a working group to address this need.

At the next SLS StAG meeting, on February 27, members of SLS discussed drafting a guiding document based on other divisions’ constitutions and the Governing Council template. The SLS hoped to propose the new document for adoption in the 2017-18 year.

For anyone new to the party, Faculty Council is the governing body for the Faculty of Law. It discusses and determine school policy, budget, curriculum, and the like. Faculty Council is aided by Dean’s Committees, who advise Council on specific issues; for example, the Curriculum Committee’s work includes approving the course list and drafting sessional dates for ultimate approval by Council.

It might be surprising to those few amongst you who don’t hang out in the University archives, but Faculty Council does in fact have a constitution—or, at least, several pieces of a constitution.

In 1942, the Governing Council of the University of Toronto established the first iteration of the Faculty Council of the Law School. There have been a number of amendments to that original constitution, most recently in 2012. A collection of nine constitutional documents grants powers of formal governance to the Faculty Council, horrible scans of which are available on E.Legal. Due to the number of documents and their incremental construction over some sixty years, it can be difficult to understand them or work out exactly how they fit together.

Over the years, the Governing Council of the University of Toronto has released multiple guidelines and presentations discussing principles and requirements of good governance. In 2012, it published a template incorporating those principles to aid divisions in drafting their own constitutions.The Faculty of Law has yet to take it up on this suggestion.

Resolving the inconsistencies between Governing Council’s constitutional template and Faculty Council’s constitutional documents would fix some of the current shortcomings of our Council’s system.The constitutional documents and currently accepted procedure are are not clear about who the members of Council are, what the requirements are to meet quorum, and whether the Dean should even be chairing meetings at all.

Governing Council’s template lists divisional deans as ex officio voting members and states that voting members must not chair meetings. Dean Iacobucci does appear to vote at Faculty Council, although it is unclear if his vote is technically counted. The constitutional documents do not list the Dean of the Law School as a member, although, because he continues to teach, Dean Iacobucci may also qualify as an active faculty member.

Minutes from Faculty Council meetings suggest that membership also includes Associate and Assistant Deans, as well as multiple graduate students; their names are sometimes listed as present members rather than observers, and they are noted as introducing motions. However, the “Resolution with Respect to Faculty Council and its Committees” of 1993the most recent constitutional amendment dealing with membershiplists only the “The Assistant Dean of the Faculty” and one member of the GLSA. There are currently six Assistant and Associate Deans currently listed as staff, excluding those who are also faculty.

The constitutional documents also state that there should be a ratio of three faculty members to one student member on Faculty Council. There are currently fifteen to nineteen student members, depending on if the additional GLSA representatives are included. There are currently sixty-six professors listed on the full-time faculty directory, which means that we are falling at least three students short of appropriate representation.

Governing Council suggests that quorum be one third of members. At last February’s Faculty Council, Dean Iacobucci stated that quorum was fifty percent of members, although this is not indicated in their constitutional documents. Faculty Council would not have had quorum at any meeting held last year if fifty percent of members were required. According to the Faculty Council minutes posted on E.Legal, just over thirty out of approximately eighty members typically attend. (Eighty is a conservative estimate based on sixty-four faculty members and using the 1993 constitutional guidelines.)

These membership issues also extend to the Dean’s Committees. The constitutional documents state that there should be significant student representation on Student Affairs, Admissions, Library, and Curriculum Committees. The Student Affairs Committee specifically must have equal student and faculty representation, and this requirement is always met by Faculty Council. However, the staff-to-student ratios last year were 9:4 on the Curriculum Committee, 6:3 on the Library Committee, and 13:3 on the Admissions Committee. It’s not clear if any of these meet the requirement of “significant” student representation because, with the exception of Student Affairs, the constitutional documents set no clear definition. That said, a ratio of 13:3 seems unlikely to meet the standard.

Having a clear and unified constitution would improve the transparency of Faculty Council’s decision-making process. Without clear authority, they may improperly include extraneous administrators, vote on and pass motions without quorum, and fail to meet the required student membership. For an institution so focused on the rule of law and clarity of thought, it seems ridiculous for our own governing body to be working under such murky conditions.