Letter to Alumni March 19th 2018
Dear Quest alumni,
Along with my fellow Board members, I have given a great deal of thought to your desire to take part in the governance of Quest University Canada. At our last meeting, the Board unanimously agreed that we would benefit from your presence and input. I am therefore delighted to announce that we have decided to appoint an alumnus to the Board of Governors as a full voting member. We also agreed to the selection process proposed by the QUCAA, as follows.
The QUCAA will hold internal nominations for the position based on a Position Description (created by the QUCAA and the Board), requiring a full CV and statement of interest. If the Board has specific and well-qualified candidates in mind, they may contact those candidates and ask them to apply through the QUCAA process. After collecting nominations, the QUCAA will hold an election and present the Board with the top three candidates chosen by the alumni community. The process should be completed within 30 days from the point of determining a Position Description. We will work with the QUCAA to draft such a description by April 2, to allow time for the Board to review the candidates and materials prior to its May 4 meeting.
Note that we are not setting aside a specific seat for alumni. Rather, we are identifying individuals with characteristics, including alumni status, that the Board has determined are desirable. We expect as time goes on that many more alumni will join the Board.
We appreciate that current Quest students wish to have a greater voice too, and we agree that student input is desirable. To that end, the Board has decided to take these next steps
Appointment of a student liaison to the Board, similar to the faculty liaison. We ask the SRC to present three candidates to the Board’s Governance and Nominating Committee for vetting and recommendation to the Board. The Board expects the student liaison to actively present student views and communicate back to students about Board activities, subject to any confidentiality limitations.
Appointment of a student to voting membership on a new Student Experience Committee. The Board is planning to do more of its work in committees. The Board has approved a new committee that will focus on students’ experience at Quest, both in academics and campus life. The voting members of the Student Experience Committee will include Board members, faculty, staff from Admissions and Student Life, and at least one student. The appointment process would be the same as for the student liaison to the Board.
We would like to have these appointments in place by the beginning of the Fall 2018 term. We ask the SRC to have nominations ready for the Board’s Governance and Nominating Committee by April 27, in time for the Committee’s review before its May 4 meeting.
We understand some may be disappointed that the Board has decided not to amend the Bylaws and set aside specific Board seats for students, faculty, alumni and staff. Note that according to the Association of Governing Boards, the Best Practices recommendation is to not have students or current employees on private, non-profit university boards—for reasons similar to those we found compelling, outlined below.
- Currently the Bylaws limit the number of members to 11. We do not want to increase the size of the Board beyond 12. As the size of any board or committee increases beyond 12, the commitment and engagement of the members decrease. The work that Quest requires mandates a high level of commitment and engagement by Board members. The Board cherishes and wishes to preserve the Board’s current level of commitment and engagement.
- If we did set aside Board seats, we would have four dedicated seats—for faculty, staff, students and alumni. Faculty and staff have not requested seats be set aside for them, but we do not feel it would be fair to set aside a seat for one Quest constituency and not another. Note we are not reserving an alumni seat, but rather identifying individuals with characteristics, including alumni status, that the Board has determined are currently desirable. We expect as time goes on that many more alumni will join the Board. If we set aside four seats for specific constituencies, that would not leave a sufficient number of seats open for the range of characteristics, skills and connections that most benefit Quest. In fact, we are currently planning to add some new Board members who possess such skills and connections.
- The Board terms are presently five years. Students, however, would serve as Board members for only one year. Yes, we could amend the Bylaws to provide for shorter student terms, but the terms are long for a reason. It takes a long time, with a steep learning curve, to understand all of Quest’s moving pieces and to develop trust relationships with other Board members. Nicole and Elijah suggested a portfolio approach, where each student member would document what they had learned, so the new member would not start over from the beginning. That would help, but it could not take the place of live participation. As you know from your classes, actual doing creates learning that cannot be reproduced by transmission, whether written or oral.
- We do not think students should have voting power over the President and the faculty who teach them. The primary function of the Board, ultimately, is to appoint and supervise the President in running all aspects of Quest and to approve faculty contracts. Even the President is not a Board member.
- Although we could exclude a student Board member from any discussions about staff or faculty, we are troubled by the idea of having different classes of Board members, with different terms and exclusion from the key matters of supervising the President and faculty contracts.
- An advocate for students would serve the students’ desire for input better than having a student on the Board. This is because Board members must be impartial. They cannot represent the interests of any specific constituency. They must consider Quest as a whole, taking into account all its constituencies, legal obligations, and financial stability, now and for years to come. Sometimes the Board must make decisions for the future that will not be welcomed by current students. A liaison, by contrast, is expected to advocate for their constituency.
- Board members in Canada can be held personally liable for missed payroll. Although Quest has insurance covering Board members, insurance may not cover this entire liability. We appreciate the offer to cover a student Board member’s liability with SRC funds, but those funds would not come close to covering the personal exposure a student could have. We should not put a student in that position. A student liaison or student member of a Board committee would have a voice, but without the liability. Board members of public universities, backed by the provincial government and public funds, do not have the same exposure. Quest does not have the same fiduciary responsibility to alumni as it does to students; alumni could make their own assessment of risk before joining the Board.
- A student liaison mirrors our current structure with the faculty, where we have a faculty liaison. This structure has generally worked well. We have kept the communication lines open. With a student liaison advocating for students at Board meetings, and a student on the Student Experience Committee, students will have access and information without the attendant, full-enterprise responsibilities and risks.
While we know that many public and some private universities have students on their boards, our thorough review of this issue has led us to agree with the AGB Best Practices recommendation and conclude that such an initiative would be unwise at Quest for all the reasons outlined above.
Thank you for reading this. We are excited at the prospect of welcoming one of you to the Board of Governors, and we look forward to continuing our journey together as we strive to make Quest the best it can be.
Mary Jo Larson – Chair, Quest University Canada Board of Governors