The quest for a policy on unofficial policies

Student union and academic policy committee working on eliminating unofficial policies

For the past two years, TRUSU and the Academic Planning and Priorities Committee of the Senate (APPC) have been working together to provide clarity and transparency to the policy approval process at TRU.

Currently, policies and rules created by academic departments at TRU aren’t required to be reviewed before being implemented. TRUSU and the APPC are looking to change that.

“We made a presentation to the APPC policy review committee last year and as a part of that presentation, some members of the student caucus brought a whole stack of documents that said these are the different handbooks and policies of different departments,” said Nathan Lane, executive director of TRUSU.

“Nobody could tell who made these rules, how they were made, etc. The intent wasn’t to illustrate to them that they are bad. We are just saying, we don’t know who wrote them or who approved them.”

Under the present system, deans can implement any rule they want as they aren’t covered under the Universities Act, said Mark Wallin, chair of the department of journalism, communications and new media, and member of the APPC’s policy review committee.

This has lead to departments adopting stricter than normal policies which exist nowhere else on campus, such as the School of Nursing’s social media policy. While TRU doesn’t have its own official social media policy for departments to follow, the School of Nursing has adopted rules and guidelines from an off-campus body: the College of Registered Nurses of British Columbia.

While adopting external policies isn’t necessarily frowned upon, no oversight exists to vet the educational policy creation process.

“This covers student handbooks too. Many programs like nursing and business have student handbooks where they put the rules and guidelines of the program within the handbook. But those handbooks are not necessarily vetted,” Wallin said.

“Can someone just sit down and write a student handbook and just throw it up there and enforce students to do that? Currently there is nothing to stop them from doing that.”

Changes that do happen will not affect policy approval in areas other than education, however.

“Since it’s education policy, it will have nothing to do with finance office or the registrar’s office,” Wallin said.

“It won’t have anything to do with a lot of the areas that students want clarity and transparency on.”

Even though the process is a long ways from completion and has slowed down recently due to the small number of students and faculty working on the issue, TRUSU has submitted recommendations to TRU administration.

First, TRUSU wants the university to take an immediate inventory of all educational rules enforced at TRU and have the university explain where they came from and who approved them. Secondly, the Students’ Union wants to create a central mechanism for having those policies catalogued and vetted.

“I don’t mean vetted in the sense we should tell nursing what the rules in their faculty should be,” Lane said.

“But if the nursing policy says in their withdrawal policy that it is mandatory that you meet with a councillor before you can be let back into the program, somebody should probably check with counseling to make sure that would work.”

Lastly, TRUSU wants all educational policies at TRU to be published in a place easily accessible to students.

“Students can’t follow rules they can’t see,” Lane said.

Though the President and the provost have both admitted that this is an issue that needs fixing, who will provide oversight to the process and when this initiative will be complete is still unknown, Lane said.