Studying Shared Governance Approaches to Managing Student Services

By Jacqueline Beaulieu

Spoiler Alert: This blog post shares details pertaining to my dissertation research (in progress) that examines the outcomes and implications of an Ontario provincial government policy that requires publicly assisted universities to negotiate compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees with students. I discuss how this research connects to the Supporting Student Success project and how my prior work on the latter supports my ability to undertake my dissertation research.

Would you like to learn about opportunities to participate in the forthcoming phase of this research? If so, keep on reading!


If you are connected to student affairs and services and/or student governments in Canada, you are likely familiar with recent headlines concerning the Divisional Court of Ontario’s November decision to quash the Ontario Provincial Government’s newly implemented Student Choice Initiative. Announced in January, 2019 as taking effect beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, the initiative allowed individual postsecondary students to opt out of certain formerly compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees newly categorized by the Provincial Government as “non-essential”. For folks from outside of Ontario: “compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees” is a term used to describe fees typically (but not exclusively) levied above and in addition to tuition for the purposes of recovering costs of student services not normally eligible to be funded via capital or operating revenue (MTCU, 2019). These fees specifically recover costs of student services provided by postsecondary institutions.

The Student Choice Initiative also permits individual students to opt out of certain formerly compulsory student society fees categorized as “non-essential”. These incidental fees are collected by postsecondary institutions on behalf of the corresponding student governments, typically to support the governance function and services they provide to students. The fees are approved by students according to agreed upon policies and procedures of the respective student government(s).

The Province described their aim as providing individual students the opportunity to determine which services, groups, and initiatives they would like to use and/or support. Under the terms of the initiative, students would continue to pay compulsory fees for services categorized as “essential” which included:

  • Athletics and recreation,
  • Academic supports*
  • Career services,
  • Health and counselling,
  • Student buildings,
  • Travel/walk safe programs,
  • Discounted transportation passes,
  • Health and dental plans (where students did not have alternate coverage),
  • Student ID cards
  • Transcripts and graduation

*Institutions cannot levy additional compulsory fees in addition to tuition for items and services connected to classroom learning unless exempted by policy. Examples of exemptions include: fees for in-province field trips, learning materials retained by students, and placement services for work terms.

Note that the following types of services are not included in the above list of essential services:

  • Most services (other than those listed above) provided by student governments
  • Student newspapers, media, and other communications
  • Services specific to supporting students from diverse and/or marginalized backgrounds
  • Leadership education programming (offered as co-curricular learning),
  • Community-based learning and outreach (offered as co-curricular learning),
  • Mentoring programs

The initiative was met with controversy, with several student organizations pushing back for reasons that included a perceived lack of consultation, a shared belief that the Province was overstepping its authority, and some speculation that student organizations were being targeted. At the same time, some conservative student groups and the B’nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights supported the initiative, citing that not all students supported their student organizations.

The initiative was subsequently challenged in court by the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (one of the province’s student associations) and the York Federation of Students (a student representative body serving undergraduate students at York University in Toronto). The University of Toronto Graduate Students Union and B’nai Brith of Canada League for Human Rights served as intervenors.

The Divisional Court of Ontario decided to quash the initiative on the basis that the Province lacked the legal authority to govern agreements between postsecondary institutions and student governments concerning student fees. You can read more about the Divisional Court’s decision here. The Province is currently appealing this decision.

While the introduction and subsequent quashing of the Student Choice Initiative appears to have garnered some attention from members of the broader public, those who are less familiar with this topic might not realize that students attending Ontario’s publicly assisted colleges and universities have held a collective right to democratically approve compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees for almost 26 years. Prior to 1994, universities could unilaterally implement “discretionary fees” (the term used for what would later be called “compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees”) to recover costs associated with student services. Growing discretionary fees and a corresponding financial burden for students sparked public debate; the Provincial Government subsequently implemented a policy on compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees on March 23, 1994.

According to this policy, compulsory non-tuition-related ancillary fees can only be introduced or increased if approved via procedures outlined in a protocol agreed to by a college or university’s administration and student government(s) (MTCU, 2019). Should a college or university implement a new fee or fee increase that contradicts the provisions outlined in the policy and/or the institution’s corresponding protocol(s) and no resolution is achieved among a protocol’s signatories, the Provincial Government may reduce the institution’s operating grant by an amount up to the equivalent of the revenue raised by the new fee or fee increase (MTCU, 2019). Institutions’ protocols can be renegotiated or adjusted at any time upon mutual agreement of the relevant parties.

My dissertation research (in progress) examines the outcomes and implications of this policy for stakeholders connected to the province’s publicly assisted universities. The study responds to growing demand for such research (e.g., Aitchison et al., 2016; Evans et al., 2019) and will expand to include stakeholders situated at Ontario’s publicly assisted colleges upon the completion of my dissertation.

I am fascinated by this policy as it represents an interesting and rare example of a scenario where students are not only included in institutional decision-making (e.g., where they are included in small numbers as members of Boards of Governors, Senates, departmental committees, etc.), but their approval is required for decisions to advance.


History of Student Participation in Shared Governance

Canadian universities have received international attention in the past for the ways in which students were involved in institutional governance and decision-making, departmental committees, and other aspects of campus life (e.g., McGrath, 1970; Jones & Skolnik, 1997; Zuo & Ratsoy, 1999). Anecdotally, my sense is that these types of involvement opportunities are often valued by administrators, practitioners, and students. There can be considerable responsibility attached to these roles, however, they are commonly viewed as providing students with valuable learning and experiences. Many share my view that institutions also stand to benefit from regularly engaging with students’ ideas and perspectives. At the same time, we find ourselves increasingly hearing about growing pressures that present-day students are facing (e.g., accessing majors; obtaining acceptance to graduate and professional programs; rising costs of attendance; managing family-related responsibilities; preparing for competitive job markets). These pressures can be viewed as being at odds in some ways with the messaging students often receive about the importance of getting involved in their campus communities. Which begs a question: what are related implications for shared governance? For student services? For student learning?

I am eager to learn more about the opportunities and/or challenges that can arise from this type of policy arrangement and whether or not (and if so, how) related opportunities and challenges have changed over time. My hope is that the study’s findings will inform and support the important continued work of policy stakeholders. Lastly, I hope the findings might provide inspiration as we grapple with the question below:

What should student participation in shared governance and institutional decision-making “look like” in modern-day postsecondary institutions?

Connection to the Supporting Student Success study

Not too long ago, I joked the Supporting Student Success Study could be viewed as the metaphorical “egg” to my dissertation research, the figurative “chicken” in this case. That is, the Supporting Student Success Study examined how student services at Ontario’s publicly assisted universities organize to support student success. My subsequent project examines the outcomes and implications of a policy that “lays” (pun intended) parameters for negotiating substantial portions of student affairs and services’ budgets. How the policy and the universities’ corresponding protocols’ outcomes influence student services practitioners’ efforts to support student success is of key interest to me as a researcher and practitioner.

This represents one of many reasons why I am grateful to have had the experience of working with Tricia and colleagues on the Supporting Student Success study. In doing so, I gained a host of relevant knowledge and skills that are supporting my ability to undertake the data collection and analyze and interpret this study’s findings. One lesson that I learned was the importance of deeply engaging the knowledge, perspectives, and expertise of the fullest spectrum of stakeholders possible. Doing so requires substantial investments of time and resources; however, tends to result in findings that better capture the essence of what is occurring at our campuses. This leads to well-informed findings that are detailed, nuanced, and ultimately useful for practice and policymaking.

I am equally thankful that Tricia is contributing her expertise and mentorship as a member of my dissertation committee, which is being chaired by Professor Emeritus Dan Lang- one of our country’s leading scholars in the area of postsecondary finance and administration.


Want to learn more about opportunities to participate in the forthcoming phase of research?

Over the next few months, several opportunities will be available to those interested in contributing relevant information, thoughts, and perspectives to this ongoing research.

Are you a senior student affairs and services administrator working at one of Ontario’s publicly assisted universities or federated institutions?

If so, you will be invited to participate in an online survey designed to engage your knowledge, perspectives, and expertise relevant to the research topic.

Keep an eye on your inbox for an important email containing further information and an invitation to participate.

Are you a university administrator or student affairs and services staff member working at one of Ontario’s publicly assisted universities or federated institutions?

Are you a student government executive or student member of the board of governors (or equivalent governing body) at one of these institutions?   

Stay tuned to find out if I will be visiting your campus in the coming months!

I am conducting interviews and focus groups at several “case study” universities designed to engage the relevant knowledge, perspectives, and expertise of diverse policy stakeholders.

Please note that every effort will be made to ensure that individual participants and their organizations are not identifiable in the reporting of the study’s findings.

Finally… what were you up to in the mid-1990s? Were you involved in or consulted regarding the policy’s development and implementation? A protocol’s development and implementation?

If your answer is “yes” to one or more of these questions, please consider contacting me via email if you would like to learn more about an opportunity to participate in an interview on the topic of the policy’s origins and past.

You may be interested to know… that individuals affiliated with the Provincial Government, Council of Ontario Universities, and provincial student associations are also being invited to participate in this research.

Concluding Thoughts

My hope is that my research related efforts will support many of you in the good work that you do with students. For those working at Ontario’s publicly assisted colleges and in other policy contexts where comparable policies are in place or being considered, my hope is that you will be able to glean all kinds of relevant learning from the insights provided by this study’s participants. By enabling us to develop a more comprehensive understanding of this policy’s outcomes- from initial implementation to present- this study’s findings could be used to support good policymaking… if and when stakeholders decide it is time to revisit the policy.


Jacqueline Beaulieu is a PhD Candidate studying Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Her scholarly work is located at the nexus of higher education governance, finance, administration, and student success. Prior to pursuing full-time studies, she worked in student affairs and services at universities in British Columbia, Ontario, and Michigan (USA). Examples of her past professional responsibilities include the design and implementation of a new first-year experience program and providing oversight for a portfolio of campus life services.

She is also a digital content creator on the rise: her YouTube videos on academic skills and graduate student success have been viewed 4000+ times in less than one year. You are encouraged to stay connected with her via email (jacqueline.beaulieu@mail.utoronto.ca), by subscribing to her YouTube Channel, and following her on Twitter (@jacquiebeaulieu) and Instagram (@phdessentials).

References (Non-Hyperlinked)

Aitchison, C., Brockie, L., Oliver, B., & MacDonald, R. (2016). Policy paper: Ancillary fees. Retrieved from https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ousa/pages/86/attachments/original/1479404004/Ancillary_Fees_document.pdf?1479404004

Evans, E., Gerrits, M., Ibrahim, F., and Sethumadhavan, N. (2019). Policy paper: Ancillary and incidental fees. Retrieved from https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/ousa/pages/1900/attachments/original/1575857033/Ancillary___Incidental_Fees_document.pdf?1575857033

Jones, G. A., & Skolnik, M. L. (1997). Governing boards in Canadian universities. The Review of Higher Education, 20(3), 277-295.

McGrath, E. J. (1970). Should students share the power? A study of their role in college and university governance. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (2019). Tuition fee framework and ancillary fee guidelines: Publicly-assisted universities. Retrieved from http://www.tcu.gov.on.ca/pepg/mtcu-university-tuition-framework-guidelines-mar2019-en.pdf

Zuo, B., & Ratsoy, E. W. (1999). Student participation in university governance. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 29(1), 1-26.

Our Journey is Our Story

You know a conference has left an impact when you find yourself itching to write while on the early morning flight home. On my 16-hour travel, I continue to think about and process the experience at the first joint conference of CACUSS and ARUCC.

I blogged on Day 1 of my professional learning journey, sharing how much I valued and was humbled by the opportunity to connect with the ancestral, unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people as I walked a part of the Confederation Trail. The walk centered my mind and provided me with a clear intention for the conference.

Stated simply, I was blown away by the depth of learning, vulnerability, and authenticity that was shared at this week’s CACUSS-ARUCC conference in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. On a more personal note, going into the conference with a very clear intention, I am humbled by the peaks and valleys that I know I will encounter on my personal learning journey to examine my settler/colonial assumptions and biases.

Sitting in Circle

My conference journey began literally on the road. I drove 1000 km from my home to Thompson Rivers University where I learned with the wonderful Faculty of Student Development team. In circle, I shared my name and where I’m from. We were a large group and it took almost an hour to go around the circle one time. I felt myself getting a little antsy and my western/colonial mind wondered if this was a good use of time. I had to quiet my mind and commit to being in the present moment in which Paul Michel, Executive Director of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, shared the importance of beginning in a good way. By acknowledging our ancestry first, we communicate our connection to the land and our relations. As we went around the circle, we not only learned about each other but new connections were discovered.

I found that two others in the circle have family whose last name is Gunn. They are from the Clan Gunn of Scotland. I thought my grandmother’s family was from the Gunn’s in Wales. Maybe they migrated from Scotland? Spending time in circle in this way, I’m motivated to learn more about the land in which I come and my relations. Irrespective, I feel a new closeness to these colleagues.

Lesson 1

Paul shared that our stories stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. It is what connects us to our ancestors’ journey. All journey is story and our story is our journey.

Skiing, Struggling, Steeling Resolve

From TRU to Charlottetown via Calgary, my conference journey began with story and continued with story front and center at the CACUSS-ARUCC conference.

Candy Palmater took the stage and enthralled the audience with her story. There were moments that were hilarious and others that were heartbreaking. I would hunch that parts of her story resonated differently with each person in the audience. This is the power of story; it invites people to connect with whatever chapter compels a response.

I am a skier and I was mesmerized by Candy recounting when her brother taught her to ski. I know firsthand it is no fun to fall when skiing. It hurts and it’s hard to get up with long planks strapped to your feet. But falling is part of skiing and having to get up is inevitable. If you fear falling, then you ski with fear. If you learn first how to get up, you can ski without fear.

Lesson 2

These were two key lessons that I gained while on my conference journey but I have to confess that I struggled throughout. The US policy of separating children from their parents who were seeking asylum at the border weighed so heavy on my heart. Throughout the conference, I was angry. I was communicating with my Congressional delegation daily through social media. I am still angry and still tweeting, Facebook posting, and calling.

I acutely felt my privilege to be at a conference in which the opening statement acknowledged that the conference attendees were occupying and visiting the ancestral and unceded land of the Mi’kmaq people. The Europeans who came to this land committed horrible atrocities and a taking of the land.

It was not lost on me that at in the same minutes that Pat Pardo, CACUSS President uttered those words, border agents of my home country were forcibly taking small children from their families. Not unlike the forcible taking of Indigenous children from their families and placing them in boarding schools in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Haskell, Kansas to “kill the Indian, save the man.”

The notion of truth and reconciliation, as painfully imperfect as it is in Canada, feels unattainable in the United States in which the truth is denied, distorted, and dismissed. With truth questioned at every turn, I wonder if we may ever engage a process of reconciliation.

There are moments that I feel helpless and hopeless. But thankfully, most moments are fueled by a passion and persistence to RESIST! I gain strength from my Indigenous colleagues who have resisted and survived in the face of broken treaties and cultural genocide. One of my colleagues shared that he is the first in his family not to go to residential school. His generation and the two previous, if allowed to participate in post-secondary education at all, became lawyers and teachers and social workers. His daughter, the fourth generation, wants to be a rock star.

I do not share this glibly. I share this story because it gives me hope. I am deeply grateful for my CACUSS family who have shared their stories with me. This story and the many others told this past week steel my resolve to examine the colonial assumptions and biases that pervade our post-secondary program. To expose these assumptions and biases in plain light. To name them for the colonial privilege and power that they provide to some and the oppression they impose on others.

I don’t have the map for decolonizing the programs over which I have influence at my institution. But I am on the journey and looking for some good company. Let me know if I you will be on the trail.

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I invite you to “leave a comment” about your learning journey. There’s great value in having friends to share with along the way.

— Tricia Seifert is associate professor of Adult & Higher Education and department head of Education at Montana State University. She is also the principal investigator of the Supporting Student Success research project.

Times They are A-Changin’ – Part II

By Tricia Seifert (@TriciaSeifert)

In the last week, two countries in North America have celebrated birthdays. On July 1, Canada celebrated 150 years of Confederation, which many have reclaimed as 150+ years in recognition of the centuries of indigenous people inhabiting that land. The United States celebrated 241 years of the signing of the #DeclarationOfIndependence, which was read aloud and tweeted by @NPR on the 4th of July.

Education has long been heralded as key to a thriving democracy. The historical trauma that residential boarding schools inflicted on indigenous people in both Canada and the US, however, has sullied the promise of education. Yet, “facing the truth,” as Suzanne Stewart (@SuzanneLStewart) and Charles Pascal suggest in their editorial in the Toronto Star, is indeed worthy of celebration.

Many institutions including my own, Montana State University, purport to “to improve the human prospect through excellence in education, research, creativity and civic responsibility.” With celebrations this past week north and south of the 49th parallel, I have been thinking a great deal about how educators engage students to enact their civic responsibility such that education’s promise can be fully realized in these two countries and beyond their borders in the next 150 years.

I believe part of civic responsibility is engaging in the political and public policy process. Today I share a small action I took to bring public policy discussions, particularly as they pertain to education policy, to the forefront in the MSU Department of Education.

Picture 18

Engaging in the Policy Conversation

Every week I send an email communication, the Monday Minutes, to students, staff, and faculty in the Department of Education. With the start of a new year, a new President taking office in the US, and new legislative session beginning in our state capital, it seemed timely to begin including information about various public policy proposals at the local, state, and federal level in addition to the usual announcements, opportunities, and event information.

Recognizing that this was an addition to the previous semester’s weekly communication, I prefaced the section titled, Policy Update – Opportunities for Civic Engagement with the following statement,

Part of being an educator and professional is to be aware of and engage with public policy relevant to your work and daily practice. This section of the Monday Minutes is designed to share public policy and legislation that pertains to our work as educators.

In each week’s communication, I aimed to include information about policies at the national/federal, state, and local level. I wanted people to recognize that public policy discussions, pertinent to their professional practice, happen all around them and at every level of governance. Over the course of the second semester, I shared information about a:

  • Local bond issue to fund a second high school in our community
  • State legislation that would provide less operating funds to the Montana University System, resulting in a tuition increase for students
  • President Trump’s federal budget proposal

In each case, I provided links to learn more about the issue and how to contact directly one’s elected and appointed public officials (US Congress, state legislators, school district personnel).

In the heat of these political times, many may wonder how to engage students, staff, and faculty in a way that is non-partisan. The text below is taken verbatim from how I introduced the federal budget proposal.

From a National perspective:

If you have not reviewed President Trump’s budget proposal, I encourage you to do so here. The proposal has SIGNIFICANT implications for public schooling and higher education accessibility. Please voice your support or opposition to our federal legislators. It¹s easy to do, simply click on this link: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/

I was clear to frame the civic action in response to the policy proposal in terms of one’s “support or opposition.” This is crucial; I am more than aware of the public discourse that purports faculty members seek to indoctrinate students. The US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, drew much attention in February stating,

“The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think.”

My intention with this small action with the Monday Minutes Policy Update – Opportunities for Civic Engagement is not to influence students, staff, or faculty members’ policy perspectives but to invite them to engage in public policy discussions as a matter of professional and civic obligation. To me, education that encourages and invites the community to engage in matters of public policy debate, development, and implementation is central to a healthy democracy.

Although I need to assess to what extent Department of Education students, staff, and faculty acted on this information, a number of people stopped by my office this semester to thank me for making this information easily accessible. Sometimes all you need is an accessible link to inform yourself in order to take action and make your voice heard.

Two Small Wins

So what’s my take-away from the two small actions discussed in the last blog posts?

I think what hits home is that providing an opportunity for people to interact with new ideas (whether those ideas are advanced by people in a discussion or a policy document) is simply what educators do. It’s not flashy; it’s part and parcel of what education is — interacting with new ideas. I didn’t do anything big in either of my actions but people came out of the experience with more information. They encountered new things to think about, questions to ponder, and possibilities for action. As David Kolb stated years ago, “learning is a process.” The small actions I took gave a chance for folks to further engage in that process.

I’m curious what others have done to discuss religious, spiritual and worldview diversity with students. I’m also interested in how you have invited students, staff, and faculty to engage in the public policy conversation.

What have been your successes? What challenges have you experienced? Please take a moment to “leave a reply” and be part of this critical conversation as we navigate these changing times.