So far as affecting what happens at Charles Sturt University (CSU) and how it is governed, Academic Senate is the only committee that has legislated authority to affect both CSU's big-picture strategy and its day-to-day running. The primary point of Academic Senate is not to generate ideas, communicate information or exhort the troops – like one of CSU's many managerial Forums for example. It is to aggregate the individual views of the members of the academy into collective democratic decisions about how the academy should best be run.
Senate is one third of the three-fold structure that governs CSU (see Diagram 1). As with most Universities, CSU is overseen by a committee of trustees who have overall responsibility for its fate. In CSU's case, this is University Council. Council is like a 'board of directors' in a business. It has a non-executive chair (the Chancellor) and exercises what is called "trustee governance." Second, we have a non-hierarchical body which exercises "collegial governance" through an internal University committee structure that oversees all academic activities and policy-making. This committee-structure is known as Senate (Students have their own Senate, called Student Senate). Senate's principal and over-arching committee is Academic Senate. Academic Senate is the body empowered by law to have its say on all matters touching on what CSU academics do, and what they need to do in future if CSU is to thrive. Thirdly, there is Executive Management, a structure which has overall operational responsibility for achieving the University's objectives. This structure is led by the Vice-Chancellor. It entails hierarchical line-management to achieve specific outcomes.
Diagram 1. The governance structure of Charles Sturt University (Legislated power = ; Power of influence = ). Dated: 22/7/2013. The New South Wales Act (1989) which legally constitutes CSU defines Academic Senate as the "principal academic body of the University." What this means is that, if there is any academic issue or policy which management, staff or students wish to debate, question or transform, Academic Senate is ultimately the committee they should address. However, the Academic Senate is often best approached through its sub-committees. What is the difference between 'Senate' and 'Academic Senate'? The term "Senate" refers to the whole structure of sub-committees with "Academic Senate" at its head. Academic Senate is a single committee. Senate includes both Academic Senate and the long list of its sub-committees.
The committees comprising CSU's Senate include, School committees because Faculty Boards are subcommittees of Academic Senate and so Senate includes the sub-Committees of Faculty Boards: School Boards and School Assessment Committees. Thus anyone who sits on any of these committees is a member of Senate (= all staff plus student representatives!). In 2017 Academic Senate has requested a review of the Membership and Terms of Reference of all Senate Committees, to clarify the governance and reporting functions of each of them.
The Academic Senate is established in accordance with the CSU Act (at clause 16). The same legislation that establishes Academic Senate specifies the Vice-Chancellor as the only required member of Academic Senate. The CSU Council has the authority to determine additional Senate members and the functions of Academic Senate. These can be enshrined in a By-law or a Rule of Council. Currently the composition, procedural requirements and functions of Academic Senate are established in accordance with the By-Law (clauses 101-107), an instrument of the University Council. The Governance (Academic Senate) Rule 2006 No. 6 (which is a Rule of the Council and has the authority of a By-law) defines in more detail the membership and role or functions of Senate within the boundaries set by the Act and By-law.
Academic Senate is established in this way as "the principal academic governing body" of CSU. In the same manner as the Council has the power to establish any other committee to assist it in the exercise of its governance function, the requirement to have an Academic Senate does not legally confer on that body any role or authority than would otherwise be authorised by the Council. It does, however, indicate that the legislature viewed that such a body was an important part of the governance of the institution. While the University could not dispense with the Senate under current legislation, the University Council has the sole authority to determine both its membership and the functions it will perform on behalf of the University Council.