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USYD1001: what the hell is the University of Sydney Senate, anyway?

By now, your new undergraduate and postgraduate Fellows of Senate have been elected. For the majority of the student population, this is just another election. But the Senate is a powerful body, and its composition has far-reaching consequences for your life as a Sydney University student. Let Honi Soit put your silent ignorance at dinner parties to an end with this bluffer’s guide for the time poor and bewildered.

Meeting of the University of Sydney Senate in 1911
Meeting of the University of Sydney Senate in 1911

Senate is the highest governing body of Sydney University. It “oversees all major decisions concerning the conduct of the university, including staff appointments and welfare, student welfare and discipline, financial matters and the physical and academic development of the university. It awards all degrees and diplomas and is responsible to the Parliament of NSW.”

There are normally 22 members of Senate, called Fellows of Senate (not Senators), who hold office for differing periods. This consists of four academic staff members, one non-academic staff member, one undergraduate student, one postgraduate student, five graduates of the University of Sydney, and 10 positions either ex-officio, chosen by Senate, or appointed by the Education Minister.

• Appointment of the new Chancellor of the university, to replace Marie Bashir when she steps down at the end of the year. This is handled by the Nominations and Appointments committee, on which Ben Veness, the incumbent undergraduate representative, sits.
• Implementation of the White Paper, which among other things aims to restructure the university’s representation at SEG level (senior executive group) by creating seven “divisional boards” encompassing existing faculties, rather than have representation by the Dean of each faculty.
• Management of the university’s finances during a difficult period of lower revenue from full-fee paying international students. This includes approving the distribution of your Student Services and Amenities Fee money.
• Facilitation of the “Wingara Mura” strategy: a document which outlines how the university will further engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to drive participation, education, and research.

The Senate election is a much more silent affair than the Union Board and Students’ Representative Council battles. This is partly because voting is conducted electronically for a one-month period.
One undergraduate and one postgraduate representative have been selected by their respective cohorts at this election. The successful candidates will serve a two-year term from 1 December 2012 until 30 November 2014.
Academic and non-academic staff will elect their representatives for two-year terms in the first half of 2013.