(September 9, 1999, Gazette)
Memorial's new president has a long list of plans and duties. But foremost among them is getting the fall semester off on the right foot for students, faculty and staff.
"The issue that is very much on my mind right now is the beginning of the academic year," said Dr. Axel Meisen. "The students are now coming in and we're making sure that everything is in place for them. I want to be sure that the students are well received and that everything is in place for them as far as their academic needs are concerned and as far as their personal needs are concerned.
"By the same token, I'm very interested in ensuring that the employees of the university — academic and non academic employees alike — have all the tools and systems in place for them to do their work well and in a manner that really does satisfy them."
Getting a jump on the term included meeting new faculty members during his and their first week on the job.
"I will be able to give them the message that I very, very strongly believe in, that we, and I personally, care about them as people and that I care about them as colleagues.
"I will lay out for them what some of my expectations of them are – including being responsive to students' needs, at the classroom level and the personal level."
"But I also want to stress for them the importance of engaging in research or in their professional disciplines," said Dr. Meisen. "What is very important to me is that they actually do communicate what they do outside the confines of the classroom. We are a provincial university and it is very important that members of the province, no matter where they are, in Labrador or Newfoundland, have an appreciation for what we do."
Dr. Meisen said these are his immediate preoccupations, but added they do have a long-term component.
Another issue facing the new president is the ongoing and upcoming contract negotiations with some of Memorial's unions. He said coming to a conclusion around a contract is important from two perspectives.
"The contract has to be good both from the member of the unions' perspective, as well as from the university's perspective," he said. "But I also want the process of getting to the contract to be a good and collegial process. We work on a daily basis with these colleagues and I want us to have good working relationships. The journey is as important as the destination."
Aside from issues within the university, Dr. Meisen said he wants to build strong relationships with stakeholders throughout the province. That means meeting people who represent the cities, towns and regions around the province, and groups such as chambers of commerce and members of the artistic community.
"We've already made plans to travel to different parts of the province – Corner Brook, Stephenville, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador City, Marystown – in order to demonstrate the interest I personally have in those regions.
"I go out partly to talk about Memorial, how important Memorial is, but I also go out in order to listen to what's important to the people. Because what their concerns are has to be reflected in some of our activities."
Dr. Meisen said he will be looking beyond the borders of Newfoundland and Labrador, and beyond the borders of Canada.
"Memorial University will have the capacity, over the next several years, to attract students from other parts of the country, indeed, other parts of the world, to come and study at Memorial. The number of high school matriculants in the province is decreasing and for the first time in our history we at the university are in position to attract students to come to Memorial without displacing students from Labrador or Newfoundland."
And while he said it is too early to comment on specific conclusions of the planning and priorities process, Dr. Meisen did say there are a number of elements that suggest future developments. One is to increase the amount of research and advanced scholarly activity the university is engaged in. That includes increasing the ratio of grad students to the general student population from its approximate 10 per cent.
And with classes starting, Dr. Meisen said his message to students us that while the university provides them with opportunities, "it's up to students to seize the opportunities and shape their own personal education."