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It is a well-known and often celebrated fact that McMaster offers hundreds of opportunities for its students. From faculty societies, to charitable clubs, to official university committees, students are encouraged to immerse themselves in all aspects of life at McMaster.

However, that opportunity is cut short for international students wishing to sit on the Board of Governors, the body charged with managing the university’s property, revenue, and business affairs. The board is governed by the Ontario Corporations Act, and in 1976, when the Act was last changed, there was a mandate that all members of the Board of Governors be Canadian citizens, including the undergraduate and graduate representatives.

“The world has changed a lot since then,” said University Secretary Helen Ayre.

This rule seems archaic, but no change is scheduled for the immediate future.

“Changing the Act is quite difficult. If [we] open the Act we would probably have requests for other things to be changed and it would probably take a long negotiation process to agree on any changes,” explained Ayre.

“Our board doesn’t deal with academic programs […] that’s all done at the Senate, and there are 12 students on the Senate who are full, voting members. So there’s not a lot that comes to our board that would be contentious [for] the students versus the board members,” she said. There are still opportunities for students who are not Canadian citizens to sit on the Senate and its subcommittees, as they are responsible for decisions surrounding the appointments of university officials and curriculum changes.

But the Board of Governors is the only group where Canadian citizenship is a criterion for membership.

“The Senate has no restrictions, the University Planning Committee has no such restriction, and the Fees Committee has students on it and there’s no restriction on nationality on that,” said Ayre.

While the citizenship rule detracts from McMaster’s image as a progressive institution, the Board of Governors does feature a unique role for non-members. A delegate from each of the University’s student associations is welcome to attend board meetings as an official observer. This position is usually filled by the President of each association, including MAPS and the MSU.

“Those people get everything the board members get, including all the confidential information. They’re allowed to attend the meetings, both the open and the closed portions,” said Ayre. Official observers are not eligible to vote on the board, but they are welcome to speak and are given the same respect as board members. Observers are asked to leave during the members-only discussion typically held at the conclusion of meetings, but according to Ayre, no motions are voted on at this point.

The role of the official observer sets McMaster apart from other universities across the province. Queen’s University and Wilfred Laurier University are the only other Ontario universities with this position; however, their observers are only allowed to attend the open segments of board meetings and are not privy to any confidential information their McMaster counterparts receive.

Ultimately, the issue with the ability to sit on the Board of Governors being based on the citizenship one holds has nothing to do with the information members may learn. McMaster may consider itself a pioneer for its unique official observer position, but if the restriction on board membership only exists because of an entrenched, meaningless rule, part of the University remains outdated.

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