An independent panel, comprised of Bonnie Patterson, Harriet Lewis and John McCutcheon, was commissioned to review the Board and Senate at Laurier. The panel commenced its work in fall of 2016, meeting independently with many individuals and stakeholder groups and conducting a review of Laurier and other universities’ documentation against best practices.
The panel presented its final report, which was circulated to the Board, Senate and broader university community. In its report, the panel’s overall conclusion is that Laurier has a generally sound state of governance that holds up very positively. While it did not identify any major gaps in practice, the report outlines a number of areas for revision to strengthen the system.
Following input from the governing bodies on the review, report, other areas of concern and next steps, the timeline for the next phase has been lengthened to allow for further education and discussion among stakeholders. A panel and roundtable discussions on university governance will be arranged for the fall of 2017. Following these discussions, the executive committees of the governing bodies will be asked to develop recommendations and a roadmap for review and approval by the governing bodies in the winter of 2018.
High-Level Findings of the Review Panel
The University Secretariat has had the opportunity to summarize findings of the report of the Governance Review Panel, which was emailed to members of the Board of Governors and Senate and posted to the website on Feb. 24, 2017.
The panel compared Laurier's practices against sector benchmarks and practices at other universities to assist them in their evaluation. They found that “Laurier has a generally sound state of governance.” As expected, they also identified opportunities to enhance some governance practices and also to help members of the university community clearly understand responsibilities and division of authority of the Board of Governors and Senate.
In creating this distillation the Secretariat has taken the opportunity to suggest responses to some of the more straightforward issues identified. We have also included some preliminary next steps for Board and Senate.
The panel members reviewed this list and have affirmed that the distillation below is a fair and accurate summary of the main points of the report. We look forward to hearing the perspectives of senators and governors.
Recommendations Applicable to Both the Board of Governors and Senate
- Implement improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of meetings of the governing bodies. Suggested areas include: the length and detail of supporting documents and presentations, the presentation and format of the agenda package, expectations around question periods, the role of committees versus the main body, handling of operational activities identified in the work plan, and number and length of meetings. It is suggested that Senate review start and end times and agenda management to address the fluctuating workload of Senate over the course of an academic year.
- Improve communications between the governing bodies and with members of the university community by, among other things, ensuring:
- Members of the university community are aware of upcoming open meetings and the opportunity to attend; and
- Members of the university community and governing bodies receive clear summaries after each Senate and Board meeting of business conducted in open session.
- Establish greater diversity of members and improved understanding of diversity and inclusion among members of both governing bodies. Recommended short-term approaches for both governing bodies are: (i) inclusion of diversity and equity matters as part of the orientations; and (ii) inclusion of diversity and equity criteria in the nominating committees of both governing bodies.
- Review the current committee structure of each body with a view to: reducing the number of committees; reviewing the size and composition of each committee to optimize representation and alignment of expertise; clarifying the mandate of each committee; reviewing the role and attendance of support staff; and considering where technology may assist in more efficient engagement. For Board and Senate meetings, a review of how technology can better enable meetings in a multi-campus environment is also warranted. Committee mandate reviews should consider how best to distinguish roles and responsibilities of the various committees from each other and the broader governing roles of the Senate and Board.
- Explore mentorship models whereby experienced members support new members. In addition, develop recruitment information for prospective members, and enhance onboarding materials, orientation sessions and educational opportunities to highlight upcoming and immediate issues, roles and responsibilities of members/chairs, as well as fundamental principles and practices of university governance.
- Undertake a comprehensive review as well as a process for ongoing reviews of bylaws to ensure they meet best practice and support strong governance. In particular, bylaws regarding conflict of interest and in camera meetings require attention. Special consideration should be given to developing or clarifying policies around “unresolvable conflicts of interest arising from the situation where a governor’s other commitments conflict with his or her fiduciary duties to the University.”
- After careful consideration of the size and composition of the governing bodies, the rationale for requested amendments, and the potential risks of opening the university’s governing legislation, the panel does not recommend asking the provincial government to change the size or composition of the governing bodies (see Sections 1.5 and 3.2 of the report).
Recommendations Specific to the Board of Governors
- That the Executive and Governance Committee of the Board of Governors review key findings of the report and bring recommendations to the Board regarding their priority/sequence and steps toward implementation.
- Include in orientations (or other applicable fora) an opportunity for Board members to learn about the role of academic freedom in the academy, including policies and procedures applicable to Laurier.
- Investigate opportunities to further engage external Board members in the “life of the university.”
Recommendations Specific to Senate
- That the Executive Committee of Senate review key findings of the report and bring recommendations to Senate regarding their priority/sequence and steps toward implementation.
- Focus on increasing the level of meaningful engagement in order to improve academic governance, rather than opening up the Act to increase the size or change the composition of Senate.
- Create reference documents that summarize the appropriate rules of order and procedures for use by senators.
- Consider an annual survey to support continuous improvement, similar to the Board of Governors annual survey.
Recommendations Specific to Secretariat
- That the University Secretariat be effectively empowered and resourced to guide and facilitate implementation of specific initiatives that derive from the recommendations of this governance report.