Being chancellor: Dominic Barton reflects on his time at UW


Spring term is a busy time for UW chancellor Dominic Barton, who is wrapping up his last couple of months in the role. Having taken the position of chancellor back in 2018, Barton is now in his second three-year term, which will come to an end on June 30.10

Elected by the university senate, the chancellor is a voluntary public-service role, serving as titular head of the university and working to represent UW on both a local and global level. In addition to the more public-facing responsibilities, the chancellor is also a member of UW’s Board of Governors and Senate and works to guide and support various university leaders.

Though never having attended UW himself, Barton said that he has always been a “huge fan”: “I felt that this is a hidden gem that Canada has,” he added, praising both the innovation and leadership at the university. He noted that while most institutions would only be able to provide either research or hands-on experience, UW’s co-op program opens the door for both opportunities. Throughout his time as chancellor, Barton hoped to share the merits of this “hidden gem” with other university leaders around the world. The question of “how do we get Waterloo more on the map?” was therefore a central one for the chancellor, who aimed to make use of his global knowledge while in the role.

Recognizing that he had a large network across the world, Barton explained that he would always work to increase Waterloo’s visibility abroad, whether that be talking about the co-op program, faculty members, or simply sharing projects that students are developing. Another part of his outreach strategy was to connect former UW president Feridun Hamdullahpur (who held the position until 2021) and current president Vivek Goel with other university and business leaders from around the world. The result was the formation of a global advisory group, which Barton said met around twice a year and asked other leaders: “If you owned Waterloo, what would you do with it?”

“I think [UW] deserves more recognition than it gets… I just think this is an amazing university and the world should know more about that,” he added.

Barton said that over the course of his time at UW, he has definitely seen the university develop more of an international presence, which he said is “great.” He also identified research as an area that he had learned more about, explaining that he would often speak to various faculty members in order to learn more about the projects that they were passionate about. As he learned more, Barton felt that it was important to share the research that was happening, and worked to bridge what he called “a general gap between the public and what universities do.” 

The desire to share Waterloo’s research with the world was cultivated while Barton carried out the ceremonial responsibilities of chancellor: “Whenever I was doing the convocations, I’d spend time with the faculty, [such as] the dean of math, and say, ‘what are you working on, what’s your passion?’” It was these conversations that inspired him to develop the podcast “Global Futures in Focus with Dominic Barton” which is released by the university. In each episode, Barton speaks with experts from UW about issues (and solutions) that are shaping the future. 

“I said, I’d love to just interview these [people] who are leading this stuff, because no one’s talking about their stories,” he said about creating the podcast. 

Barton explained that there were other areas of learning that resulted from his involvement in university ceremonies. “My connection and understanding of the Indigenous community was just massively opened up,” he said, adding that Elder Myeengun Henry has had a “big influence” on his work and life.

As for the future, Barton added that he is “really excited” about the incoming chancellor, Jagdeep Singh Bachher, who will begin his three-year term on July 1. Barton spoke about Bachher’s involvement with UW, which includes being a triple graduate and sitting on the Board of Governors. “He’ll take it to a whole different level,” Barton said of the incoming chancellor.

Though he is confident that Bachher will continue the kind of global work he has been involved in, Barton looks forward to seeing how Bachher will “change up” what it means to be chancellor. “People will probably do it the way [that] gives them energy, to [do] what’s useful for the president,” Barton explained about the role.

Reflecting on what he has learned over the course of his time as chancellor, Barton offered advice to UW students: “Be very ambitious, go for it… this is the place.” He also encouraged students to take risks with the research they’re doing, noting the amount of UW students he’s met that have been developing new ideas and businesses.

The last thing he added was that students should aim to “be global”: “This is a global world, so get out and see the world and meet people in different parts of the world — there’s so much to be done globally.”