I never really intended to get involved in university governance. Like a lot of faculty, I kind of fell into administrative work early in my career; I served on a few committees in my department because they dealt with things that mattered to me. Then I got involved in some faculty-level committees in my field of expertise. When my term expired, I was ready for something new, and when the call came out for faculty members to serve on General Faculties Council (GFC), I decided I would throw my hat in the ring and see what happened. I had never been to GFC, and I didn't even know anybody who had been on it - it was a black box to me.
I was surprised when I got elected, and then surprised again when I was approached by the GFC Replenishment Committee to serve on the GFC Executive Committee. This is a group of about 12 GFC members who meet once a month with the President and Provost to discuss current items facing the university and then set the agenda for the next GFC meeting. I thought “well OK, why not?” and showed up to the meetings that I was invited to. I soon discovered that membership on the Executive also came with a free membership on the Nominating Committee – lucky me! This committee (known as “Nom Comm”) is responsible for finding students, support staff and faculty members to serve on all of the major university committees.
Fast forward to 2017 - I'm still serving on GFC and the GFC Exec, and I recently became Chair of the Nominating Committee myself. It's now my job to lead “Nom Comm” in encouraging students, faculty, and support staff to do exactly what I did, and put their names forward to serve on important university committees too. As Chair of Nom Comm, I want our whole university community to get involved in making decisions - everyone has to have their voices heard to make our community strong. Decisions on important stuff get made by the people who show up!
Looking back at the last four years, I would say I’ve got a lot out of my involvement in university governance. I've met some really interesting people from all across the university and I’ve made new connections and developed my network a lot. It’s really interesting to get out of your own faculty and talk to people from the other tribes - it’s amazing how diverse our community is.
With regards to being on a big committee, I’m actually a little shy, so for a long time I just listened carefully and took it all in. I would speak when I was spoken to, but I wouldn’t be the first hand up in the room. Gradually I realized that my perspective could add something important to the discussion, and I started speaking up. Often I would ask a question that no-one else had thought of, or that crystallized what others were thinking. Now I’m glad that I found my voice, because I've been at the table when a lot of really important issues have been discussed. I think I've managed to make sure my voice has been heard when it comes to deciding the direction our university will take in the future. I’ve seen some of our biggest problems up close and have had a chance to influence what we’re going to do about them.
My understanding of university governance has also evolved over time. At first, it seemed invisible and a bit mysterious. Like, I’m sure someone is running the university but I’m not sure who or how. As you get into it, you realize that running a place like this is really complicated and hard work. I’m usually the first one at the table to say – “hold on - my brain hurts, can we go back over that again?” Finally, especially working with our governance team (Marion, Ann and Meg), I've come to understand that governance is vitally important for making sure our community is heard, and it's actually a lot of fun sometimes, even if it’s a little nerdy!
If you’d like to learn more about how you can play a role in the university’s governance system, just visit the governance site to learn more. There are lots of opportunities to get involved!
Jonathan White - Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
Dr Jonathan White is Professor of Surgery in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry. He is the co-creator of the ‘Surgery 101’ podcast series which has been downloaded more than 3 million times in over 200 countries worldwide. He serves as the University of Alberta's first Tom Williams Endowed Chair in Surgical Education and is the first surgeon ever selected as a 3M National Teaching Fellow.