Governing Council

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The Governing Council of the University of Toronto, the most significant example of fundamental constitutional change in a Canadian university since the early years of the 20th century, was a product both of debates about the nature of university governance found in many universities in the 1960’s and of the unique political circumstances at the University of Toronto.1  Recommendations of a special commission and of a University-wide constitutional assembly were transmitted to the Ontario government in 1970.2 In response, the Ontario Legislature established a unicameral Governing Council of 50 members, equally divided between external members (government appointees and elected alumni) and internal members (faculty, staff, students and senior administration). Its overall powers were specified, as successor to both the former Board of Governors and Senate, but the Act left almost all of the decisions about how the powers would be exercised to the new governing body.3  During its first fifteen years (1972-1987), while making decisions of substance that affected the shape and future direction of the University, the Governing Council also focused on developing its own structure and operations. Several governance themes lay behind much of the discussion: (1) the relative numbers of faculty, students and academic administrators on Council and its subsidiary bodies; (2) the respective roles of governance bodies and of the University’s senior administration; (3) planning and budget structures that allowed for the interplay of academic and non-academic input; and (4) how the governance system could be seen as meeting its public fiduciary and accountability obligations. The principle of unicameralism was reinforced at a number of points during this period, but it was only with the adoption in 1988 of major structural and procedural changes that the governance system achieved a high degree of credibility.4  The unicameral system has continued to evolve, particularly with respect to its overall public accountability responsibilities. In 2008, a Task Force on Governance was established to undertake a thorough assessment of how to optimize the unicameral Council’s ability to discharge its many roles. The Task Force is to issue a final report in June 2010.5 (JD)

  1. Bissell, Claude. Halfway up Parnassus: a personal account of the University of Toronto 1932-1971.Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974; Ross, Robin. The Short Road Down: a university changes. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984
  2. Commission on University Government; Report of the Universitywide Committee
  3. University of Toronto Act 1971
  4. Dunphy Report (1976); MacDonald Report (1978); Report of the Chairman’s Advisory Committee on Governance (1988)
  5. Towards 2030: Task Force on Governance

Macdonald, John B. ‘The Governing Council System of the University of Toronto, 1972-1977: A Review of the Unicameral Experiment,’ December 1977.