COWCUBS is affiliated with the Canadian University Boards Association and is the acronym for the Conference of Western Canadian University Board Secretaries who began meeting as a group in the late 1980’s. It is a peer network and professional development organization for those individuals who serve as professional staff to governing boards and academic decision making bodies at universities across Western Canada. The COWCUBS List Serve allows members to reach out to their peers to exchange information and get timely answers to pressing questions. An annual conference is held each fall to share knowledge and expertise on governance processes, practices and policies as well as trends and issues in the Canadian post-secondary sector.

A Brief and Probably Unreliable Recollection of How COWCUBS Came To Be

Late in the decade of the 1980s, there emerged a collective will among Canadian university chairs and secretaries to meet one another, trade information, and explore new territory. A number of individuals decided, in the immortal genius of John Lennon, to come together. The national group, now known as CUBA, and the western group now known as COWCUBS, began in Alberta.

In 1987, John Schlosser, then Chair of the Board of the University of Alberta and Paul Robison, then Board Secretary, assisted by Rhonda Williams, then Director of the University Secretariat of the University of Calgary, launched the first national conference of university board chairs and secretaries in Edmonton. Delegates arrived from coast to coast, and reached early consensus that they had common ground and lots to talk about. And talk they did. Shortly afterward, the University of Alberta, with program assistance from the University of Calgary, planned the first conference of the four western provinces to take place in Edmonton. After several annual meetings, the chairs agreed to concentrate on the national group. The secretaries took the reins of the western group, but stoutly resisted formality. In the early days of COWCUBS, Bob Raeburn (U of Manitoba), Roger Kingsley (U of Winnipeg), Iain MacLean (U of Saskatchewan), Paul Robison (U of Alberta) and Rhonda Williams (U of Calgary), all helped to shape the mission of the group, enhance its usefulness, and ensure continuing good humour. Iain MacLean won the contest to name the group and COWCUBS was official: the Council of Western Canadian University Board Secretaries.

Throughout its early chapters, COWCUBS recognized that board and university secretaries are senior advisors and, accordingly, dedicated agenda pieces to the larger issues of concern to Canadian universities. Discussions also included topics of emerging operational concern, including the arrival of new technologies, information-sharing tools and demands, as well as privacy concerns. Governance changed early in the millennium. Catastrophic failure of US corporate governance, scandal and fraud within governments, non-profits and charities created a heated and sustained focus upon the principles and practice of good governance. CUBA and COWCUBS were in a position to respond quickly and constructively. Their agendas reflected the new era of governance, requiring increasing rigour, accountability and transparency. While maintaining high professional standards, COWCUBS developed an ethic of cordial and caring colleagueship. The group warmly welcomed new members and kept in touch between meetings to provide continuing support and encouragement. Members freely shared knowledge, expertise and advice. COWCUBS, born in simplicity, has survived by serving a useful purpose for its members. May it long continue!

Rhonda Williams
A Servant of University Governance in Alberta