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June 30, 2004
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Outgoing principal reflects on Grenfell

Dr. Adrian Fowler
Dr. Adrian Fowler

By Pamela Gill
After 12 years as a senior administrator at Grenfell College, Dr. Adrian Fowler has decided to take a break. The principal of Grenfell College will end his term on June 30.

“It’s a good time for me to move on to things that I’ve had on the back burner for quite a while now,” he said. “I’ve tried to maintain my existence as an academic while I’ve been an administrator, but as most administrators will tell you, it’s difficult to be productive as a scholar when you’re involved in full-time administration.”

In the short term, Dr. Fowler plans to publish a book on cultural identity in Newfoundland literature. In the long term, he’ll undertake other writing projects – poetry, short stories and scholarly articles and reviews.

Dr. Fowler is leaving Grenfell knowing he has accomplished the goals which he set out for himself. In addition to increasing student housing on campus and making the Grenfell constituency more “community-minded”, the recruitment and retention of students from outside the traditional area of western Newfoundland was one of the major challenges he tackled.

“I realized when I became principal that we were going to have to become independent of the catchment area in order to serve it, that we were going to have to recruit from other parts of Newfoundland, the country and the world in order to survive,” he said, adding that a extra benefit of such multiculturalism is that students learn in an enriched educational environment, “especially in a world where we are expecting students to develop global awareness and interact with people from all over the world.”

Dr. Fowler’s efforts are beginning to pay off. In 1998, Grenfell had two international students and fewer than 10 from outside the province. Last year, 18 international students and 70 from elsewhere in Canada attended the college.

In addition to continuing to build on these numbers, there are other issues, such as recruitment of faculty and building the research agenda, which Dr. Fowler will entrust to the next administration to carry on. And of course, the continued investigation of Grenfell’s place within Memorial.

“I think Grenfell’s future is within Memorial. But I think that Memorial needs an enhanced presence in the western region of the province and I see Grenfell as the mechanism for accomplishing this,” said Dr. Fowler. “Personally, I believe that means Grenfell’s status within Memorial must be adjusted and enhanced. What I mean by this is that Grenfell’s principal should report directly to the president, the principal of Grenfell should sit on the senior executive committee of the university, and Grenfell’s budget should be derived at the first cut of the university budget rather than coming from the academic envelope of the university. Grenfell will also need an enhanced budget. We cannot continue to run it on the budget of a junior college.”

That said, Dr. Fowler is optimistic that Grenfell will meet its challenges and continue to flourish in the future. And he will miss it.

“I think what I’ll miss most is the excitement of the job,” he said. “I will miss the sense of accomplishment you get and the sense of privilege that I had of being able to shape an institution. It’s not just the principal who shapes an institution obviously. Faculty, staff and students do too; I felt I had a hand in shaping the institution before I became principal, in fact. But the principal is in a privileged position to be able to lead and have a greater influence than most upon the direction an institution takes. So it’s a privilege, as well as a responsibility, and I certainly enjoyed that. But at the same time I think it’s the right time for me to leave it behind.”

Transcript of interview with Dr. Adrian Fowler.

Q: Why have you decided to leave the principal’s office at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College?

A: It’s a good time for me to move on to things that I’ve had on the back burner for quite a while now. I’ve tried to maintain my existence as an academic while I’ve been an administrator, but as most administrators will tell you, it’s difficult to be productive as a scholar when you’re involved in full-time administration. And so while I’ve still got lots of energy left I want to turn my mind to those things that I’ve really left on the back burner and bring them to the front of the stove – my academic work and my writing. For 12 years, I’ve either been the vice-principal or the principal of Grenfell College, and that’s a long time. I also miss teaching, which I haven’t been able to do very much at all in the last 12 years. It appeals to me to get back in the classroom and once again have some close encounters with inquiring young minds.

Q: What are your short term and long term goals?

A: My short term goal is to publish a book on cultural identity in Newfoundland literature. That’s something I already have a text for but it requires some editing and rewriting and some shaping. I’m hopeful that it will be a book that will be attractive to a publisher and also to an audience of intelligence readers. Although I believe it is a scholarly work, I’ve tried to write it in a way that would make it appealing for people who are interested in ideas but who are not necessarily specialists on Newfoundland or Canadian writing.
In the long term I have other writing projects. I’ve written and published a small number of poems and short stories over the years. One project is to complete a book of poems and another is to complete a book of short stories. We’ll see how it goes. I’m not a prolific writer of poetry and fiction but I have always written poetry and fiction. I’m hoping that in the next few years my productivity may improve. I also have other scholarly projects – articles and reviews -- that I can be more confident that I will complete because those kinds of projects are a little bit more predictable.

Q: What were your greatest accomplishments at Grenfell?

A: I hope that I largely achieved the central thing that I set out to do, which was to complete the transformation of Grenfell College from a two-year junior college to four-year university institution offering Memorial degree programs. Of course, we had already begun to offer degree programs but our image was still very much that of a junior college dependent upon a catchment area. I realized when I became principal that we were going to have to become independent of the catchment area in order to serve it, that we were going to have to recruit from other parts of Newfoundland, the country and the world in order to survive – and not just to survive, but because there are real values for our own students if they can receive an education in the company of people from other parts of the country and the world. It enriches the educational environment, especially in a world where we are expecting students to develop global awareness and interact with people from all over the world. So, that was a major thing that I set out to accomplish. While work still remains to be done, I think significant progress was made. In 1998, we had 2 international students and fewer than 10 from outside the province. In this past academic year we had some 18 international students and about 70 from elsewhere in Canada. So we are on the road to achieving the goals that I set, but we have to accelerate the pace. Part of the recruitment agenda was to expand residence capacity. I am proud of the chalet residences that we built – they are really a high-quality product. Another thing I attempted to do was to turn the college outward towards the community. I set out to convince the community of our worth. In order to do that, the community first of all has to understand what Grenfell is and what it can be. They have to believe that Grenfell is sincere in attempting to meet the legitimate expectations of the region. I’ve spent a good deal of time giving talks to community groups and I’ve traveled around the western region doing this. I helped to create some meaningful partnerships with other institutions and agencies, and initiated and maintained our involvement with the Strategic Social Plan. Importantly, I established the office of research at Grenfell and created the position of associate vice-principal of research. While that position is designed to support faculty and their aspirations to do research, it also has a role in facilitating the application of research and the connection between the research expertise of our faculty and the needs of the community. The creation of the research office was related to my desire to connect with the broader community.

Q: What unfinished business will the next administration continue to strive toward?

A: Both the recruitment and the research agendas have been started rather than completed. So recruitment and retention are still going to be an imperative that no administration will be able to ignore. Research has also got to develop at Grenfell. We’re entering an era of high competition for faculty. Faculty who are coming out of graduate schools these days – even if they’re primarily interested in teaching at a small institution – have pretty high research expectations of research support in comparison with 25 years ago. We have to meet those expectations in order to compete for new faculty.

Q: What direction should Grenfell take in the future?

A: I think Grenfell’s future is within Memorial. But I think that Memorial needs an enhanced presence in the western region of the province and I see Grenfell as the mechanism for accomplishing this. Personally, I believe that means Grenfell’s status within Memorial must be adjusted and enhanced. What I mean by this is that Grenfell’s principal should report directly to the president, the principal of Grenfell should sit on the senior executive committee of the university, and Grenfell’s budget should be derived at the first cut of the university budget rather than coming from the academic envelope of the university. Grenfell will also need an enhanced budget. We cannot continue to run it on the budget of a junior college.

Q: What challenges will Grenfell face?

A: Apart from resources, the major challenge Grenfell will face is competition for students and faculty. The area in which Grenfell is located and serves has a demographic that has serious implications for our future. The number of high school students graduating is declining and that decline is likely to continue into the future. So as I said earlier, we have to able to recruit from outside the catchment area in order to increase our enrolment. And we need to increase our enrolment, not just maintain it – there are economies of scale that we achieve if we get a little bigger than we are right now. Plus, we can offer more programs and offer our current programs more cost-effectively than we do right now. By having greater choice of programs we can attract more students. It’s a chicken and egg cycle. Similarly, we have a significant challenge in the next five or 10 years to recruit new faculty. There are going to be a lot of retirements at Grenfell just as there are at all Canadian universities. At the same time, enrolment in universities is expected to increase. The number of new faculty coming on to the market is going to be considerably smaller than the number of faculty that the universities will want to hire. This is going to be a major challenge for Grenfell. Having said that, I think that Grenfell is up to these two challenges because our fundamentals are strong. There are also big assets within the broader community – the cultural environment as well as the physical environment – that will enable us, I believe, to attract students and faculty from other parts of Canada and other parts of the world to come here. But those assets have to be communicated in order to persuade both people that this is a great place to come to study and work.

Q: What will you miss most about bring principal at Grenfell?

A: I think what I’ll miss most is the excitement of the job. It’s got tremendous variety – unpredictable things happen all the time and have to be dealt with. But also there are long range strategic issues that must be addressed in a sustained way. I will miss the sense of accomplishment you get and the sense of privilege that I had of being able to shape an institution. It’s not just the principal who shapes an institution obviously. Faculty, staff and students do; I felt I had a hand in shaping the institution before I became principal, in fact. But the principal is in a privileged position to be able to lead and have a greater influence than most upon the direction an institution takes. So it’s a privilege, as well as a responsibility, and I certainly enjoyed that. But at the same time I think it’s the right time for me to leave it behind.


 


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Next issue: July 22, 2004

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