“The position of chancellor is difficult to explain,” admits the man who has held the post for more than 13 years. “The things that you must do are few, and how much you want to get involved depends on your particular interests.”
For Dr. John Crosbie, who steps down as chancellor on Jan. 31 to become the province’s next lieutenant governor, diverse interests meant plenty of involvement through the years.
The chancellor serves as the titular head of the university and officiates at convocation. Beyond that, he said, the role is open to individual interpretation.
“I found it to be a most interesting position.” One of the main benefits was the access it gave him to a large and diverse community of faculty, staff and students, and the chance to see how that community engages with the larger community.
Another was the opportunity to contribute to governance discussions. He particularly relished serving as an ex-officio member of the Board of Regents. In this realm, his 28-year political career he was a St. John’s city councillor, a member of the Newfoundland House of Assembly under Premiers Joseph R. Smallwood and Frank Moores, and a member of Parliament for St. John’s West from 1976-1993 clearly influenced the way he approached the role.
“I thought that it would help matters if I tried to imagine myself as the leader of the opposition to make sure that the right questions were asked and those with the real authority were kept on their toes,” he said.
And he has nothing but praise for the way those authorities namely university presidents Drs. Arthur May and Axel Meisen led Memorial during his term. Under their leadership, he said, Memorial has changed significantly, becoming far more sophisticated, greatly expanding its research capacity and its reputation, and becoming better integrated into the provincial economy.
“Memorial has greater direct economic significance and benefit to the province,” he explained. “The university is now very valuable to Newfoundland and Labrador in the economic sphere, as well as in the teaching sphere.”
Despite the ceremonial nature of his position, Dr. Crosbie also had a hand in the university’s advancement. He was integral to the success of the Opportunity Fund capital campaign, which raised $30 million from the private sector and an equal amount from the province. The fund was instrumental over the past decade in helping to bring the university to its current level of accomplishment.
Installed as Memorial’s fifth chancellor in October 1994, he was only the second individual in the role to live in the province. He hopes that residency trend will continue when the next chancellor is named, allowing his successor the same ability to participate in university activities and events.
In 1999, the university awarded its chancellor an honorary doctor of laws.
“I consider Memorial to be the most important institution in the province next to the provincial government,” he noted, asserting that close co-operation between the two is essential to the province’s continued advancement.
“My hope is that [the university] will continue down the avenue of progress it has been marching along since 1949.”
In December, the federal government appointed
Dr. Crosbie the next lieutenant governor of Newfoundland and Labrador. He moves into Government House on Feb. 1, and expects to continue to take full advantage of the opportunities for engagement that this new role offers. Dr. Crosbie will be installed as lieutenant-governor on Feb. 4 at Government House in St. John’s at 2:30 p.m.