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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Report to Convocation - Corner Brook May 2006

Dr. John Ashton
Principal of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College

Welcome to Corner Brook in the beautiful Bay of Islands. This glorious spring day is befitting a celebration of the accomplishments of our graduating class. We especially welcome visitors from outside of our province and assure them that the weather here is like this all the time. Today we will, of course, be conferring degrees upon students from across Newfoundland and Labrador but the class of 2006 also includes among its number the natives of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sault St. Marie, Ontario, Canmore, Alberta and Hillsdale, Ontario. In the persons of Natalia Cardona and Shanda Williams, both from Belize, we will see the very first members of our growing and much-prized international student community crossing this stage. The graduation of students from beyond our shores is a trend we may expect to continue and grow for our family of out-of-province and international students is flourishing and will be swollen by the almost 100 individuals who have applied for September admission to Sir Wilfred Grenfell College from outside of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Today we welcome another “come from away” in our honorary graduand Paul Muldoon. It is both timely and appropriate that we should be honouring this acclaimed Irish writer and scholar. Mr. President, as the educational, cultural and economic ties between Ireland and Newfoundland assume ever greater prominence, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College is leading the province in forging fruitful and productive partnerships with Irish collaborators in the creative and performing arts and cultural industries, in tourism and most recently, in environmental science and ecology. These new relationships will provide opportunities for enrichment and growth for our students and faculty as well as our associates in the business and cultural communities.

To the members of our graduating class, I regret that I cannot provide you with pearls of wisdom as eloquent, insightful and memorable as those delivered by last year’s honorary graduate, Dr. Rick Mercer (although moisturizing is always to be recommended). I would, however, offer the observation that there has seldom, if ever, been a more auspicious time to be a university graduate. Our provincial and national economies are prospering and employers throughout the province and across the country are seeking the services of well-educated young men and women who demonstrate the breadth and adaptability for which a high-quality liberal arts and science degree has laid the foundation. Meanwhile, universities throughout Canada and beyond are competing for the very best graduates to help fill the void created by an aging and rapidly retiring professoriate and research community. Whether you choose to stay in school or enter the workforce, travel abroad or stay at home, the future for you all is a bright one. As opportunity translates into prosperity we hope that you will remember with fondness your days at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College and, perhaps, express in a tangible way your appreciation for the head start that you derived from your undergraduate training. To assist you in doing so we hope soon to be able to appoint an alumni affairs officer for the Grenfell campus ­ someone who will follow your progress in the world beyond the halls of learning and track you down when needed.

As our traditional industries, particularly our resource-based industries decline and the so-called “new” or “knowledge” economy proliferates, a university degree becomes a more important credential for employment and professional development. Furthermore, our universities themselves take on an increasingly important role as economic drivers, not only through the direct and indirect economic benefits that they bring to the communities and regions in which they are located but also through the generation of new knowledge and the development of new services and technologies. This is why our government has made a firm commitment to supporting university-based research in this province and has chosen to invest in initiatives such as the partnership to develop a Centre for Environmental Education, Research, Technology and Development in Corner Brook, and the establishment on this campus of the Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystems Science. It also explains why, as recently as last week, the premier of our province reiterated his commitment to help achieve continued growth and greater autonomy for Sir Wilfred Grenfell College.

Perhaps the single most important contribution that our universities make to the knowledge economy is to be found in their provision of new human capital in the persons of our university graduates. Why is the training we give you so important? Well, for one thing, we expose you to the teaching of excellent professors like Dr. Bill Iams, winner of this year’s Principal’s Award for Outstanding Teaching, and Dr. Geoff Rayner Canham, most recent recipient of the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence. Those professors are supported by talented and dedicated instructional staff, like Kelly Brown, (slide 3) winner of the President’s Award for Exemplary Service. But it’s not just excellent teaching that imparts value to your Grenfell/Memorial degree. It’s the fact that our teaching and your learning has taken place in a university setting against a background of research, scholarship and creative activity. Paul Davenport, author of a recent essay on Canada’s universities and the knowledge economy expressed it as follows:

“Learning in organizations has two fundamental characteristics ­ it involves the ability to learn and the ability to interact with and learn from others. These abilities are at the heart of an individual’s success in the knowledge economy.”

With regard to teaching and learning, the knowledge economy generates a strong demand for university graduates because of the very nature of scholarly activity in a university. Universities are special places because learning takes place in an environment of research and scholarly innovation. Non-university institutions may well play a growing role in conveying facts and basic skills to young people after high school. As important as facts and basic skills are, however, the knowledge economy sets a higher premium on the ability to learn continuously, to take risks, and to work in teams ­ the very abilities universities cultivate because of their special position of teaching in a research setting.

Mr. President, we at Grenfell College understand the complimentary nature of the teaching and research activities in which we engage. We have seen and acknowledged that we must strive for excellence in both spheres if we are to maximize the contribution we make to our community, region and province. We have always been known as a college which provides first-class undergraduate instruction in all areas and we are recruiting new faculty with a view to maintaining the reputation for excellence we have achieved as a teaching institution. However, we have also now implemented an active and ambitious research agenda that has seen us recruit new young faculty with established research programs of their own, provide new and increased support for research internally through our office of applied research and the Principal’s Research Fund and acquire significant new external funding in support of research on this campus. We are developing collaborative research projects with colleagues in other parts of the province and the country and with institutional partners in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Germany. Next month we will welcome to the College Dr. Murray Rudd our new Canada Research Chair in Ecological Economics. Dr. Rudd’s appointment and the resources attached to it will greatly enhance our research capacity in the environmental sector.

Our renewed commitment to research does not come without cost and it has significant implications for us in terms of the human and material resources we are able to devote to this side of our institutional mandate. In the first instance, we cannot allow research, valuable as it is, to detract from our continued commitment to being a first class teaching institution upholding the values of a liberal education. We must continue to provide professional development supports for our classroom teachers and permit those who have made pedagogy their primary professional focus to continue to do so. If we wish to permit our faculty to continue teaching well while increasing their scholarly engagement we must commit to the goal of establishing teaching workload norms that are in line with those enjoyed by colleagues at our university’s St. John’s campus. Given the demands for our current course offerings, our growing student population and the limits of classroom capacity, the only realistic way of achieving this is through the hiring of additional faculty to share the workload.

At Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, as at many other liberal arts and science institutions, we have traditionally subscribed to a flexible and broadly-based notion of which of our faculty members’ endeavours might appropriately be classified as research, scholarship and creative activity. This is an important consideration which informs the university’s faculty reward structure otherwise referred to as the promotion and tenure system. Our faculty members have, from time to time, written important books, articles and scientific papers but they have also produced stunning and innovative works of art, outstanding theatrical performances, award winning novels and superbly crafted poems. Our colleagues professors Marlene MacCallum and Don Foulds will this week be inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Their outstanding contributions to the visual arts in Canada were achieved through their professional activities as academic staff members at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. While greater emphasis on research may mean that we will be increasingly engaged in more traditional forms of scholarship we must maintain the flexibility to recognize and reward accomplishment in a diverse range of fields of scholarly and creative endeavour.

The increasing prominence of research at this institution brings into focus one more dilemma that we are presently facing and that is our need for additional space and equipment. The building in which we now stand continues to be the site of most of the activity that takes place around our core functions of teaching and research. It was built in 1975 to accommodate a maximum of 600 students. Applications for admission to Sir Wilfred Grenfell College for September 2006 have increased by virtually 20 percent over this time last year. It is likely that enrolment will exceed 1,500 students for the first time this coming fall. Mr. President, the college needs a new academic building. We need it to provide extra classrooms, work areas and service centres for our growing student population. We need it to accommodate the new undergraduate and potential graduate programs now in various stages of development and we need it to house teaching and research laboratories for our scientists and environmental researchers. During the year gone by, as we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the opening of this building, we used the slogan “30 Years and Growing” to capture the sense of optimism and momentum that permeates the entire Grenfell community and indeed the broader community that surrounds us. In order to retain that momentum and see our optimism realized, we must ensure that the growth we continue to experience in our student population and our programs of teaching and research is supported by physical growth on the Corner Brook campus.

Mr. President, time does not permit a detailed enumeration of the numerous milestones our students, faculty and staff have achieved since I last addressed this convocation nor the many activities and initiatives we have both undertaken and planned for the future. However, we hope to provide greater insight into these matters for all our stakeholders through the dissemination of our new college newsletter, the first edition of which should arrive from the printers within the next few days. It features profiles of our students and faculty, news of our activities in student recruitment and program development, details of our research and community outreach programs and accounts of our local, regional and international partnerships. That such a publication is now needed is evidence in itself of the dramatic way in which the variety and scope of our activities here is unfolding. I look forward to being able to report further on the growth, progress, and dare I say transformation of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in the years ahead.

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