The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS)
CAGS is a registered charity and Canada’s national organization providing leadership, fostering community, and promoting collaboration to advance excellence in graduate education, research, and scholarship. CAGS’s vision is to be recognized as Canada’s leader in graduate education, policy, and practice to support the formation of individuals who, through scholarship, research, and innovation contribute to the flourishing of societies in Canada and the world.
The concept of a national association to represent and foster graduate studies was first discussed during a meeting of the National Conference of Canadian Universities and Colleges (NCCUC) held at McMaster University in June 1962. At this gathering, the Deans of Graduate Studies from three prominent institutions – the University of Alberta, McMaster University, and Queen’s University – agreed to do something about “the fact that insufficient time and discussion was given to matters peculiar to postbaccalaureate education.” Their solution was to create a pan-Canadian association for graduate studies. Under the leadership of A.G. McCalla, graduate dean at the University of Alberta, invitations were sent to deans from across the country to attend a meeting at Carleton University later that year. Eighteen institutions responded to the letter and sent delegates to the meeting, as did the Canadian Universities Foundation (CUF) and the NCCUC. The informal gathering held from 30 November to 1 December 1962 was the start of what would later be known as CAGS – the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies. An executive council of four graduate deans was formed, and it was agreed that a meeting should be held annually in November, a tradition that has lasted to the present day. The primary aims of the new association were crafted with the intent to build community and share knowledge not just among deans, but across a broad spectrum of stakeholders in Canadian higher education. As elaborated in 1962, the purpose of CAGS was “Generally to promote the improvement of graduate education in Canadian universities, and to exchange information, experiences, and views regarding:
- The initiation, organization, and administration of graduate studies;
- The admission, support, and supervision of graduate students;
- The structure of degree programs;
- The promotion of research;
- Other matters of concern to Deans and Directors of graduate studies
In the nearly six decades since its founding, the size, scope, and influence of CAGS has grown significantly. What was once a membership of 18 institutions has expanded to include 62 universities and research institutes, the federal research granting agencies, and a host of other stakeholders with an interest in graduate education. The number of activities and initiatives undertaken by CAGS has increased dramatically year over year, as well, and today encompasses the publication of research documents and annual statistical reports, the stewardship of national datasets, the awarding of prizes for excellence in mentorship and scholarship, supporting task forces on contemporary issues, engaging in collaborative and interdisciplinary projects, and hosting meetings such as our marquee event, the CAGS annual conference. Now in its 61st year, the CAGS conference has grown from a one-day gathering of two dozen deans to a week-long affair bringing together hundreds of attendees from across the country and beyond.
Over time CAGS has evolved and matured as an organization. A formal constitution was drafted and approved by the membership in the late 1980s, and this document was transformed into our first set of By-Laws. In 1991 CAGS was granted status as a not-for-profit corporation and registered charity by the Canada Revenue Agency, permitting it to generate revenues through membership dues and to open a bank account. Financial stability also allowed CAGS to grow into larger and more accessible office space – from a filing cabinet in the Honorary Secretary’s Carleton University office, to a rented room at the University of Ottawa, to its current headquarters in an historic building located in Ottawa’s By-Ward Market. As CAGS progressed through these important organizational milestones, its name changed several times. As seen in the final appendix, none of our former names were particularly inspiring or memorable, but they do reflect an important shift from focusing primarily, if not exclusively, on issues of concern to graduate deans, to a more representative and inclusive view of graduate studies writ large.
The changes in name have also been reflective of some rather striking transformations on the CAGS Board of Directors. While geographically and disciplinarily diverse, the first 25 Presidents of CAGS were all white, male, and predominantly English-speaking. Early boards were relatively small and tightly knit (3-5 members), and comprised entirely of deans and directors of graduate studies who were, again, virtually all white men. Indeed, the first women to serve on the CAGS Board of Directors – Julia Rowney of the University of Calgary and Lois Smedick of the University of Windsor – were elected in 1986/1987, some 24 years after the Association was founded. In 1990, Dr. Smedick broke further ground when she was elected President of CAGS. In stark contrast, our modern board has a capacity of 16 directors drawn from a diverse talent pool of deans, associate deans, administrators, graduate students, and others with expertise in graduate education. It has been purposefully built to be representative of the larger CAGS community, taking into account the traditional considerations of geography, language, and discipline, as well as more nuanced attention to gender, race, career status, institutional size, relevant skills and expertise.
Today, CAGS is Canada’s national organization providing leadership, fostering community, and promoting collaboration to advance excellence in graduate education, research, and scholarship. CAGS’s vision is to be recognized as Canada’s leader in graduate education, policy, and practice to support the formation of individuals who, through scholarship, research, and innovation contribute to the flourishing of societies in Canada and the world.
 Frederick A. Aldrich, The More Things Change…A Somewhat Reminiscent History of the Canadian Association of Graduate Schools (Ottawa: CAGS, 1988): 3.
 Alberta, Carleton, Ontario Agricultural College, Ottawa, Montreal, New Brunswick, Memorial, Dalhousie, Queen’s, Laval, Assumption, Toronto, UBC, McMaster, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia Technical College, McGill, St. Francis Xavier.