Registrar 101: What is a Policy?

As mentioned in a previous post, Registrars are often keepers of academic policy. When policies are poorly applied or misunderstood, it can lead to very frustrating experiences. It might be helpful to examine what a policy is in order to know how to manage it.

Report 26: Independent Administrative Agencies: A Framework for Decision-Making[1], written by the Law Reform Commission of Canada, states,

We believe the processes through which independent Administrative Agencies make decisions should reflect an appropriate blend of the following values…:

Accountability …

Authoritativeness …

Comprehensibility …

Effectiveness, Economy, and Efficiency …

Fairness …

Integrity …

Openness …

Principled Decision Making ….


What Is Policy For?

Policies exist to ensure that our processes and practices align with our core principles and the regulatory/legislative environment, and to protect the University and its stakeholders. Our principles reflect our commonly-held values, and we write policies to ensure that these principles are respected in our various activities. We put processes into place to implement these policies, and various practices emerge over time to accommodate local variation, exceptions or unforeseen irregularities that arise in carrying out these processes. Our principles rarely change – they reflect core institutional and societal values. Policy change may be infrequent, but it can, should and will occur to assure continuing relevance. Procedures should be written down and available for reference, but they change more frequently and are properly the responsibility of decision-makers responsible for the associated processes and practices.


In summary, a university policy is one which is intended to:

  • state the University’s position on issues which have university-wide application;
  • reflect and uphold the University’s governing principles;
  • identify and prescribe compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and other policies;
  • promote operational efficiencies;
  • enhance the University’s mission and/or reduce institutional risk;
  • provide decision makers with limits, alternatives and guidance;
  • change infrequently.


Policies vs. Procedures

While policies may comprise elements of procedure, most policies should focus on principles and provide guidance and direction. Policies change infrequently, and changes to policy are subject to approval by the appropriate governing body. Procedures, on the other hand, are put into place under the direction of the policy’s sponsor to ensure that institutional processes and practices comply with policy. Procedures may be changed at the discretion of the sponsor to ensure that implementation of a policy is consistent with, and takes appropriate advantage of, changes in the environment, improvements in technology, and other factors which could contribute to effective processes and practices. To ensure coordination of policies and procedures, these should always be cross-referenced to one another. It is the responsibility of the sponsor to ensure that the procedures are made available in an appropriate format and that they are cross-referenced to the relevant policy(ies).

[1] Ottawa,ON: The Commission, 1985, pp 8-9.


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