What Waterloo needs from its president’s second term

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Canadian post-secondary education is in a dramatic state of transition. Shifting government priorities, tight budgets, and market pressures are forcing many universities to re-evaluate their core identities and academic programs. Across Canada, many university presidents have found themselves unable to respond to this transition, and have subsequently been dismissed by their institutions after little more than a few years in office. It is not a great time to be the president of a university.

 

At Waterloo, however, our president has held his office since 2011, and we learned in June that he has now been reappointed to stay with us until 2021. Few presidents make it to six years, much less ten, and Dr. Feridun Hamdullahpur’s ability to maintain the confidence of the Senate and the Board of Governors speaks to how he has raised UWaterloo’s global profile. Nevertheless, there is much work yet to be done. As Dr. Hamdullahpur leads this institution into its seventh decade, there are two things I hope become defining planks of his second term.

 

First, the university will soon be in need of a bold new vision. Our current strategic plan is, for the most part, laudable, and certainly one of the president’s defining achievements thus far. The rest of Ontario’s universities are just waking up to the importance of work integrated learning and experiential education, but these things have long been a priority at Waterloo. Impressive though that may be, we can only stay ahead of the curve for so long. Other institutions will eventually catch up – co-op, experiential learning, and entrepreneurship alone will not differentiate us forever. The president must articulate what it is that makes these programs different and special at Waterloo. When the time comes that nearly every university and college in Ontario offers co-op programs, this institution must be prepared to leap further into the future, defying sectoral norms and pursuing knowledge in new and unexpected ways.

 

The practical application of this vision depends on campus unity, and that must be our president’s other major focus going forward. Waterloo tends to split itself along faculty lines, with limited cross-campus co-ordination. Such a culture has the benefit of encouraging each faculty to practice participatory governance, leading to vibrant subcommunities and strong programs. That said, in order for Waterloo to progress as an institution — in order for the President’s strategic vision to mean anything — it is necessary that all six faculties move in the same direction together. Thus it is insufficient for the president to simply facilitate discussion between the faculty deans. He must lead them, and leading in this case will require cultivating an understanding of the daily realities faced by students, researchers, and administrative staff on this campus. With this understanding in mind, he must unify the deans and convince us to make his plan our own, so that we, as a community, will be inspired to take Waterloo into its next decade together.

 

Congratulations Feridun, and good luck. I’m excited to see where you take us next.

 

Sacha Forstner

Undergraduate Senator, At-Large

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