Report to Convocation - Corner Brook May 2005
Dr. John Ashton
Principal of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College
Today we welcome our friends from across Newfoundland and Labrador as they join us for the celebration that is our spring convocation of 2005 and for those of us who are privileged to reside here there are many gifts to be thankful for and many achievements to acknowledge.
We celebrate the 30th year of Memorialís presence in the Western region and the difference we have made by providing the opportunity of readily accessible, quality post-secondary education for two generations of students from Western and Northern Newfoundland and, more recently, from other parts of Newfoundland, other provinces of Canada and other parts of the world.
In conferring an honorary degree on Mr. Rick Mercer we celebrate the ability of the native sons and daughters of Newfoundland and Labrador to compete at the highest levels of their chosen professions nationally and internationally and the special contribution our province has made to the flowering of the creative and performing arts in Canada.
We celebrate also today, the generosity of our new-found benefactors Dr. John and Mrs. Heather Lau and the Husky Oil Corporation in acknowledging the work of our faculty and students in visual arts. We look forward to establishing a long-lasting and fruitful partnership with them.
A further cause for celebration is the flourishing of the relationships that we enjoy with our community partners. Over the past year we have worked closely, collaboratively and productively with the city of Corner Brook, with the business community , with the economic development agencies, with our sister institutions in post-secondary education and with the residents of Corner Brook and the Western region. I would add that, in many of these cases, we have built upon the foundation of connections that were formed and nurtured by my friend and predecessor Dr. Adrian Fowler.
A particularly vigorous celebration is warranted by the significant new investment in our teaching and research activities received and anticipated from the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Government of Canada and we welcome Minister Tom Marshall representing the premier and we regret that the Honourable Gerry Byrne, Member of Parliament for Humber, St. Barbe, Baie Verte, cannot be with us today.
The past year has been one of noteworthy professional achievement for our faculty and staff and we celebrate their accomplishments today as well.
Lastly and most importantly however, convocation 2005 is an occasion to celebrate the academic success and personal fulfilment achieved by you the students of our graduating class. For you this convocation is more than a mere rite of passage. It is a time of doors being opened and new pathways being trod. As you open those doors and follow those paths, you may do so with confidence for you carry with you the skills and life experiences you have enjoyed by virtue of attending an excellent institution of post-secondary education. You are armed with degrees that will equip you to solve the problems and clear the obstacles that confront you through lifeís journey. You have a breadth and depth of knowledge that will stimulate you to continue to learn no matter where the journey may take you. As you travel on we know that you will remember us and we trust that you will serve as worthy ambassadors for our college and our university. We hope too that you will continue to participate in the life of Memorial and to lend it your support by becoming active members of our community of alumni.
Mr. President this is a particularly fine graduating class and its members have accomplished much already. Many have found employment in their chosen fields and many more have gained admission to graduate programs and access to scholarship funding. The graduates of 2005 offer living proof that a Grenfell degree is an excellent degree and that Grenfell graduates can compete with the best in Canada and around the world. Time does not afford a listing of all of the individuals who will be leaving us to attend graduate programs all across the country nor to enumerate the numbers of dollars in scholarship funding they have secured to support the continuation of their academic careers. The details, however, are impressive and as further indication of our studentsí successes I would add the observation that this year, no fewer than six Grenfell alumni held full-time teaching positions in our faculty and several more joined us as per-course instructors.
All of these accomplishments bear witness to the talent, hard-work and perseverance of our students but they also exemplify one very significant fact: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College has a proven track record for providing academic programs of the highest quality. The credentials of our graduates are acknowledged by the finest institutions of higher learning in the country. Mr. President, the new academic programs that we are currently proposing and developing will conform to the same high standards we have established for all Grenfell degrees and they will produce graduates of the same calibre.
Members of the graduating class, the success that we celebrate with you today could not have been achieved without the skilled intervention and patient dedication of the men and women who are seated to each side of this podium. The faculty and staff of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College may have their equals but they have no betters. The gifts that they bring to their profession are exemplified by the winner of this yearís Principalís Award for Outstanding Teaching, Dr. James Greenlee, a pedagogue and scholar of the highest order.
They are embodied in the person of Dr. Tom Daniels retiring after more than 30 years of service to our university as a counsellor, professor and senior administrator. And they are represented in the person of a very special individual with whom today we may celebrate a very special achievement; the recipient of this yearís 3M Teaching Fellowship, Dr. Georg Gunther.
Like our graduates, the faculty and staff of this institution have achieved significant professional success in a variety of areas. There have been new works of academic scholarship, new research funding secured and important personal accomplishments. Professor Ken Livingstone, the head of our Division of Fine Arts, directed Centaur Theatreís production of Joe Penhallís Blue/Orange in Montreal. His work was honoured by being awarded the Masque, the highest honour in Quebec theatre, for best English language production. Professor Barbara Hunt of our visual arts program received professional recognition for her work in the form of the Presidentís Award for Outstanding Research.
I would like you, our graduates, to recognize the significant accomplishments of our faculty and staff and the part that they have played in making this day possible for you.
Mr. President 2004-5 was a difficult year for the college as it was for our university as a whole. In the context of fiscal restraint imposed by the inaugural budget of a new provincial government, our ability to sustain our programs and other activities to acceptable levels of quality was severely challenged. We had to make some difficult choices and take some unpalatable measures in order to manage our budgetary situation. Here at Grenfell College, we were forced to place tight limits on travel across the institution, make deep cuts to our library acquisitions budget and severely curtail our purchases of materials and supplies - to take, in short, the types of measures that are anathema to any institute of higher learning. Despite effectively controlling our expenditures and largely because of unforeseen shortages in our revenue streams, we still find ourselves in a deficit position at the end of the fiscal year. We must now face up to the challenge of addressing that shortfall.
Despite our seemingly endless budgetary problems, however, and with the help of friends in various places, Grenfell College achieved some major successes during the past year and we look forward to the future with great optimism.
In October of last year we launched Gateway West, a business development service that takes the business concepts of young entrepreneurs and connects them to the resources and programs available to help them advance towards the business start-up stage. Within a few months of its launch, Gateway West has serviced in excess of 45 clients. The first operational business developed through the program will open shortly and there are additionally 10 business plans at various stages of preparedness. The Gateway West Service is available to Grenfell alumni and I would urge those members of our graduating class who may have ideas for new business initiatives to take advantage of the opportunities that Gateway has to offer.
Gateway is one of several programs that will permit the college to play an increasingly prominent role in regional economic development for Western Newfoundland and we acknowledge the support for this venture that we have received from the Government of Canada through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, our provincial Department of Innovation Trade and Rural Development and, especially our partners from the corporate sector, the John B. Dobson Foundation of Montreal and the Humber Valley Resort Corporation.
Last fall the college, through its associate vice-principal for research, Dr. Wade Bowers, submitted an application to the Canada Research Chairs Program for a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Environmental Economics. The chair would serve as a crucial catalyst in mobilizing our cross-disciplinary research capacity in the environmental sector and would be one of the foundations upon which a case could be built for having the City of Corner Brook and its environs designated as a Centre of Excellence for Environmental Education, Research, Technology and Development. After a vigorous competition in which our proposal was ranked against a number of very strong submissions from other academic units across the university, Grenfell College was awarded the chair.
Our Tier II Research Chair is worth $100,000 annually for five years, renewable for a further five-year period. Additionally it will provide our college access to and help us lever further funding from agencies such as the Canadian Foundation for Innovation among others. We have been recruiting aggressively and will continue to do so in the U.K., Western Europe, Scandinavia and throughout North America to try and secure the very best and most appropriate candidate for this important position.
The college has entered a new phase of curriculum development. We recognize that in order to increase our student population to a projected target of 1,400 this year, 1,500 next and ultimately to approximately 2,000 we need to retain more students in our academic programs and attract new students from all parts of Newfoundland, across Canada and beyond. In order to do so it will be necessary to expand and diversify our curriculum and introduce new and innovative programs that will both stimulate the interests of potential students at home and abroad and serve the needs of our local, provincial and national communities.
With your encouragement and assistance, Mr. President, we identified tourism as one of the growing areas of scholarly concern that nicely matched Our criteria for program development. After two years of tireless work by a small committee of gifted and energetic members of our faculty we have prepared a proposal for a bachelor of arts degree in tourism studies which will be presented for approval to the Senate of our university at a special meeting in June.
Mr. President, the BA tourism studies program has been two years in the designing. It has gone through at least five different iterations and has been the subject of more intense scrutiny and a more detailed and widespread process of consultation than any other program we have produced.
It has been enthusiastically endorsed by industry professionals and academic experts both at the local and international levels. The BA tourism studies has no equivalent in Eastern Canada. It is badly needed by our province and it will attract students from the domestic, national and international markets. We anticipate its speedy and unimpeded approval.
Our work in program development does not begin and end with tourism. We intend to complete the preparation of a proposal for a degree in business administration in the fall. We are working in close co-operation with Memorialís Faculty of Business and hope to be in a position to make the program available to students early in 2006.
We are also re-examining our entire range of environmental programs with the objective of enhancing and expanding them in concert with formal academic program reviews that are currently in progress for our environmental science and environmental studies programs.
The time seems auspicious for the development of new programs in film studies and film production and some of the key infrastructure to support such ventures is already here on the West Coast. A group of our colleagues in the Division of Fine Arts is exploring the possibilities. Through collaboration with the Corner Brook and Stephenville campuses of our sister institution the College of the North Atlantic, I see the potential for establishing Western Newfoundland as the provincial centre for academic and technical film education. In September the college will host a visit by Prof. Donald Taylor Black, director of the National Film School of Ireland, and we hope to take advantage of his experience and expertise in furthering our planning process.
Prof. Blackís engagement with us is part of our growing collaboration in both programming and research development with post-secondary institutions in Ireland. It is a collaboration that has already born fruit in two anthologies of creative writing, a major exhibition of visual art and poetry, joint ventures in theatrical production and a number of student exchanges. This relationship will yield a series of new projects over the coming months and will continue to tangibly enrich the lives of the participating institutions and their students.
On Monday of this week a group of 40 young women and one especially blessed young man took their places in the inaugural class for the fast-track bachelor of education (primary/elementary) degree at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. Developed in concert with Memorialís Faculty of Education, this program allows us to offer professional training to a group of students to whom it would otherwise be unavailable and at the same time help our province deal with an impending shortage of qualified teachers in the primary and elementary grades. Mr. President, even as we seek greater autonomy within the Memorial system, this initiative demonstrates our readiness and ability to work collaboratively with other academic units in the university to provide opportunities and services for students and the communities that send them to us.
The recently announced provincial budget contained measures that will have a direct, significant and positive impact upon the college, its students and its programs. $300,000 of funding through the Department of Environment and Conservation was earmarked for the establishment of the Institute for Bio-diversity and Ecosystems Science (or IBES) at the Grenfell College campus. The institute is an endeavour which seeks to forge links between government scientists and education by providing research opportunities for graduate and honours students in fields devoted to investigating the broad spectrum of issues relating to bio-diversity. Though still in its infancy the positive impact of the Institute on the life of the college and our student population is already being felt and experienced. A number of initiatives are already in progress and the institute will roll out a number of new graduate and undergraduate research projects as the summer fieldwork season gets under way.
This yearís budget also set aside $500,000 for the establishment phase of the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Education, Research, Technology and Development. Together with the College of the North Atlantic and our other community partners in the research and economic development sectors Sir Wilfred Grenfell College will play a major role in this initiative to harness the significant environmental research capacity that is already present in the Western region and to stimulate economic growth through research and development activities.
Mr. Minister your governmentís support of these initiatives and the collegeís special role in them represents more than a cash transaction. During the course of our discussions over the past months we have presented you and your colleagues with a vision of what the College can become and what it can achieve for our community our region and our province. It is a vision of a small university campus providing high quality post secondary education and supporting an active research agenda with special expertise in the Environment, Tourism, Business and the Creative and Performing Arts and Cultural Industries. An institution whose programs are framed by our continued commitment to the core values of liberal education and to the provision of a broadly-based education for our students. An institution that enjoys a mutually supportive relationship with the community that encircles it and which in turn is a major force in economic and social development for the community and the region.
In the measures that it has taken and in initiatives we anticipate for the future, your government has accepted and endorsed our vision and for that we are hugely appreciative. We look forward with anticipation to a continuation of that endorsement as government unveils its white paper on post-secondary education.
We also appreciate the enthusiastic support of our federal member Mr. Byrne. His advocacy will be invaluable as we increasingly look to the Government of Canada for support for our research and other programming. The research agenda for Sir Wilfred Grenfell College has expanded dramatically over the past number of months and will continue to do so. In 2004 research activity on our campus generated $269,000 from all sources. Mr. President I can confidently affirm that we will exceed that amount by a significant margin this year. Our researchers in the creative arts, the environmental sector, and the liberal arts and sciences are involved in many new and exciting projects. Increasingly we are engaging graduate students as well as our own undergraduates to assist us in this important work and provide them with valuable experience in the field, the laboratory and the studio.
We have recently submitted a proposal for funding to establish a centre for Research Modelling and Statistical Services to serve the needs of our local community through our office of Applied Research. Under the auspices of the Centre for Environmental Excellence we are examining potential research projects devoted to soil science, on-shore petroleum exploration, water quality, forestry and agriculture. It is also our intention to present a major proposal for funding to enhance our environmental research capacity during the forthcoming round of applications under the Atlantic Innovation Fund.
We have compiled a comprehensive inventory of research activities at this campus and of the funding mechanisms through which it is being supported. We will be communicating this information to the University community and the community at large over the coming weeks and months. Such is the scope of our ongoing research and program development at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College that we plan to initiate the publication of a regular College newsletter during the coming academic year. This will serve to keep members of our community informed about the exciting things that are happening here and promote awareness of the ways in which Grenfell is making a real difference in our city, our region and our province.
Mr. President the initiatives and plans that I have outlined for you today are not those of an institution that is spinning its wheels. Nor are they those of an institution that is content to restrict itself to a narrowly defined mandate or a single sphere of excellence. While we recognize that as a small university campus, we must work collaboratively with our institutional and community partners and develop strategically in areas that lend themselves to our location and strengths, we see no bounds to that collaboration and development. Sir Wilfred Grenfell College is alive. It is mature. It is growing. It is ambitious and it recognizes no limits to its potential to be a positive force in the local regional and provincial communities. I urge our graduates of 2005 to think like their alma mater. Think big, be ambitious, do not be deterred by the first hurdle that you meet or the first rejection you encounter, and set no limits upon your potential to do good in the world.
We at Grenfell College will get where weíre going, and so will you.