Connecting university boards to student wellness

Every day, members of Canada’s university board professionals make decisions that impact the lives of students, staff, faculty, and the communities they serve. Today, these professionals come from a number of backgrounds, and combined with the unprecedented pressures that universities currently face from a number of directions, it is essential that Canada’s university board professionals are up-to-speed on the challenges that most impact their stakeholders and, just as importantly, the possible solutions.

One such area where board professionals can have a major impact is student wellness, notes Heather Stuart, Bell Chair in Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Research at Queen’s University. “[One] thing I think we have to do is take a really good look at the organization and structures of our institutions and critically assess what they are doing in terms of creating healthy environments for people,” says Stuart. “The Okanagan Charter is something that post-secondary institutions are using, but any organization, including the media, can look at their activities, their policies, their behavior, and say are we creating or supporting structural inequities and is there something we should be doing differently so that people with serious mental illnesses aren’t marginalized.”

Stuart plans on taking these insights and communicating them directly to Canada’s board professionals as part of a day of professional development that will kick off the Canadian University Boards Association’s annual conference, which will take place in Kingston, Ontario, this May 2-4. (Early Bird registration is now open and ends February 15th). The day will be hosted by next year’s CUBA conference host, Université de Moncton, and represents a singular opportunity within the calendar year for university board professionals across Canada to educate themselves on the issues that are most important to their institutions. These issues include:

  • Student Wellness

  • Cybersecurity

  • Mental Health

  • Cannabis legalization

One cannot overstate the impact of having Canada’s university boards build their nuanced and mindful understanding of these issues, especially when it comes to improving the lives of students across the country. “Mental health impacts us all, from the institutional and individual perspective,” says Sandra Koppert, Director, Programs and Priorities, Mental Health Commission of Canada. “We all have a role to play in advancing mental health for all. Knowledge is power and it starts with awareness which enables action and allows people to find the help they truly need.”

Koppert will present alongside Stuart at a session titled “Student Wellness and the National Standard for Post-Secondary Student Success,” which will help participating board professionals understand the key role their boards can play in supporting a systemic framework that strengthens and promotes the psychological health and safety of students at their schools. Sponsored by Bell Let’s Talk, the session will feature experts who will engage participants on why work related to student mental health is of critical importance and what is being done to better support student wellness for success, both during and after university. This session is but one example of the many areas that the conference’s professional development day can change the perspectives of participating board professionals, and thereby change the direction of higher ed in Canada.

A unique opportunity for Canada’s board professionals

“This day has been invaluable to my own career, especially in the early years,” says Lynne Castonguay, Secrétaire Générale at Université de Moncton, of the opportunities provided by CUBA’s day of professional development. “As many board professionals would agree, our role isn’t always easy to explain to others. But when you’re in a room filled with peers who are eager to learn and become better at their jobs, it reminds you that you’re not alone and is very motivating. You have a chance to ask very detailed questions, and you’ll receive very detailed answers on the issues that impact you and your institution. There’s just no other opportunity in Canada to have that kind of atmosphere as a board professional.”

In the past, CUBA’s day of professional development has focused on issues such as presidential searches or university ethics. But this year’s focus on wellness and mental health is one that Castonguay finds especially important. “Students come in and they have expectations for support,” says Castonguay, “and we need to ask ourselves whether our universities are able to fulfill those expectations. Do we have the right policies in place? Are we delivering on our obligations? Are we meeting the right standards?”

When asked how CUBA’s day of professional development impacts Canadian higher ed as a whole, Castonguay points again to the crucial role that well-informed board professionals play in the lives of all who are connected to their institutions. “The titles of board professionals and university secretaries can vary from school to school, but what’s consistent across them is the essential role that these professionals play in delivering effective and informed counsel to ensure institutional continuity, strong governance processes, and effective decision-making. You are the eyes and ears of university governance, which is why it’s important to take advantage of this once-in-a-year opportunity to connect with your peers from across Canada for professional development and knowledge sharing.”

This day of professional development will be made possible by the support of the Geldart Group, and is open to CUBA member University Board professionals (Click here for more information about who is eligible to register and attend). For more information about CUBA’s annual conference, please visit the CUBA conference website.

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