What began as a four-month contract turned into a 36-year Dalhousie career for Susan Brousseau (BA’81, LLB’84).
“I had articled after my law degree,” says Brousseau, “but decided early on that I wanted to do something other than general legal practice. I was interested in the administrative and policy side and looked to Dalhousie for opportunities. When I had the chance to work in the legal counsel’s office at Dal, I took it.”
Brousseau, who retires from the university this week, would go on to become one of the more recognizable and consistent faces on Dal’s administrative team. After serving as associate legal counsel, she spent 12 years as the university’s sexual harassment officer. Then, for the past 15 years, she has overseen the University Secretariat — the office that supports Dal’s bicameral governing bodies, the Board of Governors and the University Senate.
“It’s about ensuring that our governing bodies have full and accurate information and effective and efficient structures and processes to ensure good decision making,” she says. “And we work to be a resource for the university community more generally on best practices in governance."
It’s an office that didn’t exist before Brousseau was tasked by then-President Tom Traves to create it in 2007 by merging the Board and Senate offices together. Ever since, under her leadership as university secretary, it’s became a vital resource to the Dal community. Brousseau’s counsel has been valued by multiple presidents, Board chairs and Senate chairs, while initiatives such as the creation of the University Policy Repository have helped provide clear, consistent and accurate governance information.
Bob Hanf has been a member of Dal’s Board of Governors for a decade now and serves as its current chair. He’s long considered Brousseau his “go-to person for governance guidance.
“She knows the history of the university and I swear knows Robert’s Rules of Order by heart,” says Hanf. “She is always concerned about the best interests of the students. I consider her a friend and will miss her dearly.”
Current Interim Senate Chair Louise Spiteri has known Brousseau for even longer. The two of them first worked together in the late-1990s on the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Harassment, which Brousseau chaired in her role as sexual harassment officer at the time.
“Susan has been a pure joy to work with,” says Dr. Spiteri. “She is highly competent, professional, kind, thoughtful and insightful. I have always greatly appreciated Susan's insights and advice. Susan has been very supportive of my work as a Senate Officer, and her knowledge of Dalhousie's bicameral governance model has been invaluable. I feel honoured to have worked with Susan for so many years and I wish her all the best for a very happy retirement.”
Supporting a changing university
Brousseau has seen her office’s work grow increasingly complex over the years as Dal itself has grown and changed.
“If you consider Dal of several decades ago and the Dal of today, there has been significant growth in many areas, along with increased complexity in, for example, the external accountability and regulatory frameworks with which the university must comply. This has increased the oversight responsibilities of the governing bodies and the need to ensure that those bodies are fulfilling their roles."
A good chunk of this work — performed alongside a five-person University Secretariat team — sits at the intersection of the Board, Senate and administration.
“As the university secretary, it is critical to maintain confidentially and integrity and to have strong working relationships with the leaders of Board, Senate and administration so that people have confidence in you as a neutral governance professional — offering advice and guidance, but not unduly influencing decision making. Our role is to make sure that all partners in governance have accurate and timely information available to make the best decisions.”
A new approach
Knowing her retirement was approaching soon, Brousseau has spent the last couple of years working closely with the university’s top lawyer, John Hope, on a new approach to supporting university governance at Dalhousie.
Going forward, their two roles will be merged into one, with Hope serving as general counsel and university secretary. In that role, he will oversee both the Legal Counsel and University Secretariat offices, with the support of the assistant general counsel and two associate secretaries. This model which came out of recommendations from a recent external review of the Legal Counsel Office, aims to improve the provision of legal, governance and policy advice while continuing a high standard of support for Dal’s governing bodies.
It's a change Brousseau welcomes — and one that brings her Dal career full circle as it comes to an end, with her current team uniting with the office where she first started at the university 35 years ago.
“It’s the people I’m going to miss the most,” she says. “I’ve had the privilege of working with such amazing people — on the Board, on Senate, in administration, but most of all on my own team. We say that we’re small but mighty. We really pull together and get a high volume of work done in what I consider to be a very professional and high-quality manner.”
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