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Dr. Holly Pike's address to convocation

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College

Convocation Fall 2008

Dr. Holly Pike, Acting Principal

Address to Convocation

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College is in the midst of a period of change, one that may have profound consequences for our institution, our region, and our province.

We have recently experienced a sad change in the loss of our friend and colleague Dr. John Ashton, who, in his term as Principal, was the key mover of the major change we await – the change in our governance structure that will make us a university within a Memorial University system. The controversy that initially surrounded the governance change places squarely in front of us a distinction made by Bertrand Russell: “‘Change’”, he said, “is scientific, ‘progress’ is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.” That is, we can identify change when it occurs, but we cannot always immediately evaluate whether change constitutes progress.

As we embrace a change in governance, our task is to ensure that we foster progress as well. Dr. (Eddy) Campbell has expressed his determination to use the change in Grenfell’s status to make the Memorial system even better than it already is. He is right that this is a unique opportunity for the province.

To ensure the outcome that we all want, there has to be a shared understanding of how we make change become progress.

The strategic plan we have developed over the last year identifies areas of focus and the need for growth. We plan to raise the profile of our environmental programming through the development of an Environmental Policy Institute and the reorganization of the administration of our environmentally focused units. New faculty members are already in place to begin these processes.

We plan to introduce graduate programming in selected areas of study to attract new students from both within and outside our region and to strengthen our fine arts programming. We will build on our links with organizations in the region and with educational institutions here and in other countries.

We propose to facilitate increased international recruitment through the development of an English as a second language program, and have hired a co-ordinator to begin developing a program.

Each of these initiatives will require significant funding – the difficulty lies in the need to fund not only change, but also progress. In today’s competitive post-secondary climate, funding progress means funding the core functions that make a university what it is – teaching, research, and student life.

As we try to create a “brand” for Grenfell that complements the “brand” of the St. John’s campus and strengthens the provincial post-secondary system, we have to be prepared to compete with institutions around the world to bring scholars and students here to support our region. It is particularly important that we increase the local capacity for research and scholarly activity by reducing the teaching load of our faculty to match that of faculty members of the St. John’s campus.

Having research-active faculty is key to the competitiveness of our institution. Far from moving our focus from high-quality, student-centred education, providing the opportunity to do more research will help prepare our faculty members to engage students in cutting-edge thinking across the disciplines.

As we compete for students from a shrinking pool, we have to offer first-rate facilities and support services, which can only be made available through investments that support core functions and allow us to strengthen our liberal arts and science mandate, our recruitment and retention activities, and our support systems, and that improve and expand our aging infrastructure.

Progress is measured not only in the addition of new activities, but also in improvements to what we are already doing. Our change in governance will be progress only if it is includes maintaining the integrity of our teaching, research, and student support functions that underlie and are necessary to all new initiatives. We can build effectively only if our foundation is strong.

Those graduating in all disciplines have been changed by their education, and in the educational context, graduation is necessarily progress. The students graduating with degrees in primary and elementary education here today have been exposed to both theoretical and experiential learning in preparation for entering classrooms in the province and elsewhere. Their ability to think critically and what we hope will become an interest in life-long learning will increase their opportunities to progress personally and will help them guide others to progress. Our visual arts students have progressed in technical skill, but have also learned to tap their creativity, preparing them to change the world of art, to introduce new ideas that will stimulate further thought. The need for highly trained nurses in our province and beyond has been well documented by the healthcare industry, governments and the general public. How then can we regard an increase in the number of well-prepared nurses as anything other than progress?

We are making progress with the physical development of our campus, through the acquisition of the RecPlex, the start of construction on a new residence, and the development of research space in the long term care facility under construction. These are among the changes to our central functions that will be necessary to support all future development. We have a plan for a new wing on our Arts and Science building, the original building of this campus, that would help us meet our current program requirements. However, our campus lacks the space and facilities to support faculty and student research to the extent that is usual at the other institutions with whom we are now competing for students.

We do have strengths in this competition, such as Western Regional School of Nursing’s recent success in attaining a full seven-year accreditation from the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing. Their success will become our success, as we look forward to their eventual incorporation with Grenfell College. The School of Nursing has been involved in an innovative project to prepare aboriginal students from Labrador for nursing careers, a program that will allow them to return home and practice in the very areas that are usually so challenging to recruit for. Up to this point, these students have been studying at College of the North Atlantic in Goose Bay; this fall they joined the third-year class at Western Regional School of Nursing, and we look forward to their presence on this stage during our Spring convocation in 2010. They are surely an example of progress – their education is the culmination of two post-secondary systems working together to bring a direct benefit to the province. Another strength is the opportunity to study at Memorial’s Harlow campus, as Visual Art students have been doing every second summer for 10 years, and as some of the Visual Arts students graduating today did. This opportunity and the visiting artist program funded largely by the Canada Council have given our students exposure that would not otherwise be possible in our relatively remote location. The opportunities we offer our students for personal development are an important part of university life. The offering of the Student Leadership Program, for example, will help students prepare themselves for pursuing their own interests and for helping in causes they believe in. It is our obligation to make sure that these opportunities remain available in the future.

We can offer no better role models to our graduating students than three dedicated supporters of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College: Dr. John Ennis of Waterford Institute of Technology, who has done so much to facilitate interaction between our institutions and regions; Dr. James Greenlee, who will be designated professor emeritus today, and has always pursued excellence in his teaching, research, and service to the university; and Dr. John Ashton, our principal, who pursued progress with energy and vision and led us along the road we are now following. We will continue to pursue both excellence and progress as we deal with the change that is coming.