Reflections of an outgoing president

Looking back

(September 9, 1999, Gazette)

By James O'Brien

It was a mild surprise to learn that even the executive assistant to the president wasn't quite sure where he was.

That's probably because outgoing university president Dr. Arthur May was already engaged in the wide range of activities that will see him into the next phase of his professional life.

The Gazette spoke with a relaxed, casually attired Dr. May on a recent Friday afternoon.

"I think that the highlight of my experience, in many ways, has been the convocation sessions," he said. "These traditional ceremonies show off the university at its best."

Dr. May continued with a statistic that in the 90s over 20,000 students were granted degrees at Memorial, a number representing about 40 per cent of the people who have ever graduated from this university.

"Memorial has matured as a comprehensive university," Dr. May added. More specifically, he cited the increase in graduate enrollment, the success of the Opportunity Fund, and improved links with the community as among the milestones in his nine-year tenure as president. He further identified the beginning of degree-granting status at Grenfell and the merger with the Marine Institute as equally major events in both his memory and Memorial's recent history.

Asked if we would do anything differently with the benefit of hindsight, Dr. May responded immediately.

"The short answer is no, what we did in the 90s was so much a result of what governments were doing. We found ourselves playing catch-up."

Dr. May explained the difficulty of planning when financial commitments from government are delivered on such short cycles. He expressed some satisfaction with obtaining a three-year funding commitment from government, but suggested this remains a major challenge in university governance.

Dr. May's future plans include a long holiday away from the pressing demands of office. On his return, he'll contribute to a diverse collection of groups including the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the Naval Officers Association of Canada, and the National Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency.

The former public servant admitted to serious consideration of a book project related to the evolution of Canadian fisheries policy.

Dr. May will maintain an on-campus office in Spencer Hall for a time while he undertakes these projects and others related to the university.

"As a grad of Memorial University, and someone who was active in the alumni association, I've always considered Memorial one of the constant associations in my life."

On the subject of advising his successor, Dr. May demurred, suggesting simply that it was always good advice to try and leave a place a little better than you found it.

"Look around, discover what you think needs to be done, and concentrate on a few things where you think you can make a difference."