Background information

What is a Students’ Association?

Carleton University has two student associations that operate as incorporated, not-for-profit, student-run organizations. The Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) represents graduate students on campus and the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) represents undergraduate students. All students who are enrolled at Carleton University are members of either the GSA or CUSA.

Elections occur once a year to decide the composition of the student executive. All students are able to run in student elections.

The GSA has a long history of advocating on behalf of students on various issues including, but not limited to, sexual violence awareness and prevention, tuition fee reduction, student-worker solidarity, and student mental health.

We also provide our membership with services, grants, awards, meeting space, and recreational activities.


One of the roles of the GSA is to represent and advocate for graduate student interests both on the Carleton campus and within the broader community. This involves the executive sitting on several Carleton committees and boards, including Senate, the Grad Faculty Board, and the Board of Governors, to ensure that the collective grad voice is heard and valued.

Our campaigns are another way we advocate for graduate student interests and students in general. We address issues ranging from post-residency fees and lower tuition to student-worker solidarity, equity, and student union autonomy. The GSA works both independently and in partnership with the Canadian Federation of Students on a number of these issues, as well as on various campaigns and issues that the GSA Council has endorsed.

Several of these campaigns are designed and implemented by the GSA Political Action Committee (PAC), which is chaired by the VP External and is open to all students. For example, PAC organized a campaign around challenging high tuition fees at Carleton, which included over 1,250 postcards signed by students urging the Board of Governors to vote to freeze tuition. Current campaigns that PAC is working on include challenging all forms of discrimination and oppression on campus. Racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of oppression can affect how certain groups of people access post-secondary education, and perpetuate inequities in society based on gender, race, socio-economic status, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, citizenship status and other factors.

If you have any questions, would like to get involved in any of these campaigns, or learn more about PAC, contact

Canadian Federation of Students

Established in 1981, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the largest national student association in Canada. The Federation unites more than 650,000 college, undergraduate, graduate, part-time and international students from coast to coast.

“Individual students at colleges and universities across the country become members of the Canadian Federation of Students through a campus-wide vote. The Carleton Graduate Students’ Association is member local 78. We work with the CFS on campaigns to end discrimination, combat sexual violence, and eliminate tuition fees for domestic and international students.

All major decisions are made at twice-yearly national and provincial general meetings. Each member students’ union has an equal say in setting the policies, direction and priorities of the Federation with the principle of ‘one member, one vote’. Every motion submitted to a general meeting gets debated by all member students’ unions in attendance at plenary.

Motions are referred to the following four (4) sub-committees for more in-depth analysis: Budget Committee, Organizational and Services Development Committee, Policy Review Committee and the Campaigns and Government Relations Forum. Motions are also examined and discussed from a diversity of student perspectives. The Canadian Federation of Students is the only student organization in Canada with the following constituency groups: racialized students, students with disabilities, Francophone students, International students, part-time and mature students, queer and trans students, student artists and women students. The following Caucus groups will review motions that are relevant to them: College and Institute Associations, Large Instiute Associations, Small University Associations, National Graduate Caucus and the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students. Lastly, member students’ unions gather by province or region to discuss motions from the perspective of students in their geographic area.

A National Executive is elected by member students’ unions at the national general meetings to execute and implement all Federation decisions.

Learn more about the Canadian Federation of Students and Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.

Board of Governors

The Board of Governors (BOG) is the governing body of Carleton University that is responsible for oversight of the University’s governance and administration. Most of its 32 members are appointed by the current board at any given time, while four seats are reserved for elected students, two for faculty, two for Senate representatives, two for staff and two for the Alumni association. Eighteen seats are held by “community members” with no formal affiliation with Carleton. These currently include:

  • The Clerk of Canada’s Privy Council;
  • The CEO of a major pension plan;
  • The COO of a major athletic association;
  • A construction company vice-president;
  • A former Mayor of Ottawa who now owns a car dealership;
  • The CEO of Western Union, the world’s largest finance transfer company;
  • Two CEOs of consulting firms;
  • The head of a large polling firm;
  • A Director of the National Arts Centre;

The remainder of the “community members” are notable for serving on various corporate boards, or are lawyers or architects.
Board members must agree in writing to adhere to a Code of Conduct prohibiting them from speaking against Board decisions or on Board business.


The Senate is the highest academic body in the university. The Senate is the final academic authority on campus and as such makes decisions of significant importance to students and faculty. The regular work of Senate includes awarding degrees and scholarships, approving new programs and revised curriculum, and establishing regulations concerning students’ academic work.

The university operates on a bicameral system, with the Board of Governors being the senior corporate body and the Senate being the senior academic body. Senate draws its members from faculty, students, alumni and senior administration as well as representatives from the Board of Governors.”