Leadership Voices

A Window into Governance

Registrar James Heth 


I’m really excited to be the new Selkirk College registrar (and as I’ve said a few times, I’ll emphasize “new” for about a year or so as I learn my way around the college). It feels we’re at an important time in the college’s history, as there’s been a fair amount of recent organizational and systems change (with more to come). And it also seems that the world in which we operate keeps getting more complicated and is constantly presenting new challenges and opportunities. But if there’s one thing to be said about post-secondary institutions, they’re adaptable (if sometimes slow to adapt) and resilient.

Registrar James Heth

Which brings me to the fascinating topic of…governance. Maybe this is where you’ll stop reading, and I can certainly understand not everyone is as interested in governance as me, but it’s an important topic! Systems of governance are so closely tied to an institution’s success that meeting the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities the college faces depends in large part on having effective governance.

What Is Governance and Why Does It Matter?

What is governance? There are many definitions, but fundamentally, it is how legitimate decisions are made and implemented. The “how” describes the structure and processes, or how the college is organized to make decisions and operate. “Legitimacy” requires that decisions are made from or have a basis in some authority, and that decisions are not arbitrary.

Structure and processes can be simple or very complex. The college’s governance system involves the elected and appointed members of the board and Education Council exercising their powers, but also the executive, the various committees and other groups that work together, and individuals that make decisions every day.

Through the college’s governance system, it sets strategic direction and goals, assigns and delegates authority, and also adopts policies that provide more detailed direction. There are policies that govern how new programs are developed and approved (Policy 8100), set admission standards (Policy 8611), and direct how instructors assign grades (Policy 8612). Programs have policies that govern delivery of programs, finance has policies regarding procurement, and when students enrol at the college, they agree to be subject to the college policies that govern the college’s relationship with students.

Authority for decisions can also be a complicated topic. Authority can come from a formal legal authority, such as a statute or election of officials, or range all the way to an informal agreement that only exists so long as everyone in a group keeps agreeing. Selkirk College exists because of the College and Institute Act, and the structure and powers of the board and education council are described in that Act. But for an institution like the college, there is a complex web of important relationships that are not as formalized from a governance perspective.

The college is part of the local community and region, and serves the needs of local residents seeking desired education and training. But it is also a destination for international students, another important constituency, and employers have an interest in the college providing relevant education and skills training so they can employ people to provide services in the region. And the college’s commitments to reconciliation, Indigenization and decolonization require that governance and policy be a key area of focus to work toward those goals. The list goes on, but suffice to say that engaging and balancing all these relationships is complicated and having good fundamental governance leads to better decisions and outcomes.

That’s probably more than enough if you made it this far. But don’t get me started on how diversity impacts governance (spoiler alert: it’s good), or on trends toward less hierarchical or multi-level governance systems.