Focus on Governance: Faculty Councils

The Powers and Duties of Faculty Council

By TRUFA Vice President, Star Mahara

Welcome to this second column intended to stimulate thinking and promote discussion about academic governance at TRU. Recall that the intent of this series is to help faculty better understand their roles and responsibilities related to this key aspect of academic work and in doing so, strengthen faculty participation in governance.


The role of TRU’s Senate in setting educational policy and making key academic decisions is well known, but did you know that your Faculty Council (FC) is also an important governance body with its own legislated role in academic policy and decision making? This month I set out to answer that question for you with this review of your rights and responsibilities related to academic governance through your FC.


TRU’s governance structure is mandated by government legislation. Each Faculty, School, or Division (FSD) has been constituted by the University Board in accordance with the University Act, Section 27 (2) and the Thompson Rivers University Act, Section 7 (1). Each FSD is considered an academic administrative division (unit) of TRU and as such is required to have a Council (FC). TRU’s Senate has a legislated set of responsibilities for directing the affairs of the institution and setting policies in accordance with the Thompson Rivers University Act. Appendix B to the Senate Bylaws (General Features of the Academic Divisional Councils) provides for the creation of FCs and outlines requirements for its structure and processes.


Faculty Councils: Purpose, Powers, and Responsibilities

The power and responsibilities of FC are set out in Section 40 of the University Act. In general, the purpose of Council is to provide a forum for FSD wide dissemination of information, discussion, and academic decision making related to the governance, and management of the FSD and its activities. According to Appendix B to the Senate Bylaws (TRU), “While respecting the authority of more senior university governance bodies [Senate and the Board of Governors] and administration, each Council [FC] is responsible at the Divisional [academic unit] level for the planning, priority-setting, development, management and ongoing review of the teaching, research and other related programs and services within the Division”. FCs are the senior academic governance body of a FSD; there is no higher governance body at the FSD level. As mandated through Senate, FC is the primary venue for collegial and consultative decision making within the FSD. All recommendations for new or revised programs and courses originate with the FSD and must be approved at the FC level before being submitted to Senate for approval.

FC powers and responsibilities are as follows:

FC powers:

  • make rules governing its proceedings, including the determining of the quorum necessary for the transaction of business;
  • provide for student representation in the meetings and proceedings of the faculty;
  • make rules for the government, direction and management of the faculty and its affairs and business
  • vote on the recommendations from its committees pertaining to issues regarding operations in the FSD, including planning, priority-setting, development, management and ongoing review of programs and services.
  • generally, deal with all matters assigned to it by the Board or the Senate


The responsibilities of a FC are to provide leadership with respect to:

  • recommending to Senate programs of study leading to diplomas, degrees and certificates in the FSD, conditions of admission to these programs and descriptions of such in the University Calendar
  • voting on recommendations from its Committees pertaining to issues regarding operations in the FSD, including planning, priority-setting, development, management and ongoing review of programs and services
  • submitting to Senate names of candidates for Honorary Degrees
  • making recommendations to Senate appropriate for enhancing the teaching, learning and research environment of the University
  • passing such regulations and by-laws as may be necessary for functions of the FSD and the FC


We should pay attention to the last bullet point. According to the University Act, FCs are governed by TRU policies, but each can adopt additional policies and procedures on academic matters as needed, for instance additional student polices or regulations in some of the professional schools. Note however, a general rule made by a FSD is not effective or enforceable until a copy has been sent to the Senate and the Senate has given its approval, as per Section 41 of the University Act, so ensure that you identify any such rules/policies within your own FSD and arrange for these to be brought to Senate.

FC Charter and Bylaws

It is important for each FC to capture the powers, duties, roles and responsibilities of their FC in a comprehensive set of By-Laws. Appendix B states that “each Council shall determine its own bylaws for matters not covered in this policy, using as a guide the bylaws of Senate. The meetings of the Council and its Committees shall be governed by these bylaws and by Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised (with respect to procedural matters not governed by the bylaws)”. Gaining consensus on bylaws is an important step for FCs as the bylaws outline the governance structures and processes as enacted within the FSD. Faculty, Deans, Associate Deans, student and staff members are voting members. Some faculty are not aware that Deans and Associate/Assistant Deans are eligible for service as Chair/Vice Chair, and currently this is the case for at least two FSDs.

FCs need to meet to be effective. Most meet monthly; however, Appendix B specifies that, at a minimum, each FC shall meet four times a year. Our Senate guidelines recommend that, “given the role of FC as a collegial and consultative decision-making body, it is strongly recommended that all faculty members of the [FSD] serve on the [FC]. This is the case for all FSDs except for the Faculty of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism Management (FACT). This Faculty has chosen to form a representative Council involving less than the full FACT faculty membership. FACT FC is required to hold at least one meeting annually to which all faculty members are invited. And, as also required by Senate, FACT approves the structure and membership of that Council on a yearly basis.

Finally, a FC must create standing committees and ad hoc committees as needed to conduct its business. The terms of reference and membership of these committees shall be determined by the FC and be included in the FC Bylaws.

Some recommendations:

Given the powers and duties of FC and that faculty members form a significant majority on FCs, it is clear that this governance body is an important one in terms of collegial governance. As individuals and as members of a FSD, you need to ask yourself how well your FC fulfills its role as a collegial and consultative decision making body, what is required to foster collegial governance through democratic, collegial decision-making, and what will increase engagement of and strong participation by faculty in your FSD’s FC. What is needed, if anything, so you can engage in collegial discussion and debate about the academic directions of your FSDs, your departments, and the institution; the external challenges faced by your FSD and TRU; and how to productively address the many challenges we are facing? Here are a few of my thoughts.


Ensure your FC maximizes its potential for strong governance structures and processes. FCs can act to protect your FSD’s autonomy with respect to its powers, responsibilities, and advisory roles but not without an understanding the authority afforded FCs through legislation. Review your FC Charter and By-Laws (sometime called Terms of Reference) and make changes as needed so that your FC is truly the democratic collective voice of faculty members. Are you able to work collegially with Deans, senior administration, and the Senate on all academic matters originating from your FSD, or coming to you from higher bodies? If not, try to identify the source of difficulty and how the FSD could resolve it through enacting the powers of your FC.


Maximize your role in moving your input into other governance bodies, particularly Senate. Stay abreast of upcoming Senate agendas and read the minutes from the previous meeting. Are there issues of concern to your FSD? Introduce motions for dialogue and debate at your FC, and then ensure your senators are fully informed so they can fulfill their role in presenting views from your FSD in decision making at the Senate. Faculty senators should consult with FC to seek advice and opinions. Ensure your senators have s spot on your FC agenda to report back on a regular basis.


Finally, for shared governance to work, faculty members need to be full participants at the FSD level. Faculty are busy people and attend many meetings each week. FC can become, as John Cleese might say, “just another bloody meeting”. How can faculty come to value active engagement in FC?

First of all, ensure your Bylaws are up-to-date and provide clear direction for running a FC meeting. All faculty need to be aware of these and see them enacted at each meeting. Make good use of people’s time by running meetings effectively. There is a lot of information out there, some 1-2 pagers on effective meetings. Circulate material and hold a 10-15-minute discussion around its usefulness for improving how your FC operates. And lastly, refer your colleagues to this newsletter or ask a TRUFA representative to attend your FC for a short primer on collegial governance and the importance of FCs. Decision making at the FC level is going to become even more important in the future given pressures on budgets and new pressures on programs. Faculty Council must become is a meeting you want to attend.


In conclusion, I hope that a better understanding of governance will empower faculty to recognize and carefully apply the powers entrusted to them through the University and Thompson Rivers University Acts as they participate in the formulation of academic policies and procedures within the university through FCs.


Next month: The Role of Departmental Committees in Governance

The TRUFA newsletter will be hosting a monthly column on governance issues at TRU and beyond. Faculty are encouraged to contribute an article about governance in their specific faculty or discipline or indeed about the general state of governance both at TRU and at Canadian universities in general. If you do not wish to contribute an article but have specific governance questions or issues that you would like to see addressed in an upcoming column, please feel free to contact Martha at




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