Transform the SFU Experience

Bringing a staff perspective to university governance

October 26, 2023

During her two decades at Simon Fraser University, Carolyn Hanna has worn many hats. As senior director of International Services for Students and staff representative on the Board of Governors, she believes deeply in giving back to the SFU community.

Currently serving her second term in the staff representative role, Hanna describes the importance of engagement and openness while working collectively with all board members, including elected student and faculty representatives, towards the best interests of the university. 

“The community of staff at SFU is incredibly large and diverse, and as an individual I can’t possibly represent everyone who works here. But what I can do is contribute my perspective and experience as a staff member - we play a critical role in supporting the academic and research mission of the university, none of us work in isolation.”  

She emphasizes that the staff representative role functions primarily as a member of the Board, not as a member of a particular constituency.

Prior to being elected as staff representative, Hanna served on a number of university committees and working groups. Those experiences helped deepen her understanding of the governance and policy environment, but it wasn’t until a close colleague suggested running for the Board of Governors that she began to seriously consider it. 

“I was aware of the board, but becoming staff representative was initially not on my radar at all, especially in spring 2020 when so much was in flux due to the pandemic. The more I learned about it from my colleague, the more I understood what a responsibility and an honour it would be to throw my hat in the ring.”

So what does the board actually do? SFU operates under a bicameral system, meaning there are two governing bodies: the Senate and the Board of Governors. While the Senate oversees academic governance, the board is responsible for the “business” of the university such as revenue and property and holds a fiduciary responsibility to the overall stewardship of SFU.  

“It's a really unique opportunity to get involved with governance at SFU and to understand the university in a very different big-picture way.”

Hanna’s experience has also been enriched by attending university events as a board member, whether it’s to celebrate alumni and award recipients or to connect with external community members who care about SFU. When it comes to getting more involved at the university, she encourages anyone considering it not to “count themselves out” even if it feels intimidating.  

“Whatever your professional role is at SFU, you have something to contribute in making the university a better place to study, work, teach and research. One of the cool things about working at a university is there are so many ways to get involved and make positive changes, no matter how small they may seem at the time.”

Moving forward, she looks forward to building on the knowledge and understanding that was gained during her first three years on the Board as the university implements exciting new initiatives such as What’s Next: the SFU Strategy

Hanna also notes that there are plenty of ways to stay informed about the Board of Governors by attending an open session, reviewing the Open Board Reports from each of the Vice-President portfolios, and following updates from the Board Chair and President.