Installation address by Dr. Axel Meisen,
President and vice-chancellor
Fall Convocation, Oct. 21, 1999
Before I share some thoughts with you regarding my appointment, I would like to express my gratitude to the members of Memorial University and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for giving me the opportunity to serve as president and vice-chancellor of this fine university. I am honoured by the confidence and trust which you have placed in me and I assure you that I will do everything humanly possible to make the years ahead highly successful.
I also wish to thank some very special people in my life. First and foremost, I wish to thank my parents, and especially my mother, for having encouraged and supported me over many years. Unfortunately, she cannot be with us this afternoon. She is still in Vancouver with my son, Kai, because she is too frail to travel at this time. However, she is very much looking forward to moving to Newfoundland in the near future.
I want to thank my daughter, Nadine, my partner, Barbara Girard, and my good friend Setty Pendakur for having made the long trip from Vancouver in order to share this special occasion. Their friendship and support mean a great deal to me and I look forward to them becoming involved with this province as well.
I also wish to thank some who were not able to be here today. They are my teachers, professors and good friends from many parts of the world including Great Britain, the U.S.A., Thailand, Peru and Hong Kong.
I want to thank my students, especially my graduate students at the University of British Columbia who have collaborated with me for many years and whose enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge made our long and hard work worthwhile. Many of them have gone on to responsible positions and it is my great delight to witness their professional and personal successes.
Finally and very importantly, I wish to thank the founders of the university as well as the faculty, staff, students, the government and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for their contributions over the past 50 years. Without their dedication and commitment, Memorial University would not have been able to prosper. Memorial University has helped to preserve the heritage and culture of Newfoundland and Labrador while assisting with their transformation into modern societies. The university was founded against the backdrop and in memoriam of terrible wars and with the mandate to create a better future. By any measure, it has succeeded in this mandate.
In the next few minutes, I want to examine two subjects which are particularly important to me: trust and the university's future. In my view, trust is central to any successful enterprise, including successful
universities. I therefore wish to explore some of its principal dimensions and my commitment to trust. Of course, I am speaking of trust that is based on genuine competency and achievement. I am not referring to “blind trust.”
In Canada, our provincial universities are autonomous and independent of government even though government provides most of the universities' funding. When the House of Assembly created Memorial University in 1949, the legislation enshrined the autonomy of the university. The view of the legislators at the time was that only an autonomous university could ensure free inquiry and teaching, which are in the best interest of the province. At the same time, it was understood that the university would use its autonomy wisely. The university must always be mindful of the trust the people place in it. I assure you that this will continue to be done during my administration.
We will communicate and explain our activities and achievements. At the same time, we will be responsive to the needs of the province.
Another dimension of trust, which is extended to universities, relates to the education of students. Students come to the university often to study subjects about which they know very little at the outset. Frequently parents and other family members provide financial support, which creates considerable hardships for them. They trust the university to provide first-class education that meets the standards of the disciplines and the corresponding fields of practice. In an increasingly competitive, complex and interconnected world,
there is only room for excellent programs. Students and others trust the university to fulfill this expectation. We must continue to do so.
Let me now turn to trust amongst the members of the university. In academia, professors trust each other since they place few, if any, restrictions on research topics, research methodology and pedagogy. They
permit wide interpretations of course content and rarely overrule academic decisions of other professors. As we well know, this does not preclude vigorous debate and challenges on matters of substance. Such activities are both normal and appropriate in a university. Without it, high standards could
not be achieved, conventional and deficient theories could not be replaced.
We therefore must foster the continuance of trusting relationships between faculty members.
Finally I wish to address the important question of trust between administrators, academics and support staff. Such trust is declining in many universities. There are many reasons for it. Amongst the most important ones are a lack of mutual understanding resulting from poor communication, inconsistent actions and undue attention to short-term goals. The objectives of universities cannot be met if trust does not exist between administrators and other members of the university. I am committed to fostering it.
I hope that I have conveyed to you my understanding of trust regarding universities. I also hope that I have convinced you of its importance. Because of the central importance of trust, I make this commitment: I will earn your trust and I will nurture its development amongst faculty, staff, students, administrators and the external community. I will do this by being principled, open and clear. I will listen carefully and seek advice before acting, but I will act. I will not shy away from difficult decisions.
I now wish to address the university's future. At the outset, I want to say that I wish to enhance the joy of learning, the joy of teaching, the joy of researching, the joy of creative practice and the joy of working at the university. Without such joys, the university would, at best, be an efficient organization. It would be devoid of spirit and soul.
To foster the joys, I will seek innovative approaches so that we can be successful despite inevitable physical and financial constraints. I will seek to streamline procedures, enhance resources and improve the way we reward outstanding work. This will be done by using a team approach and with
Let me now focus on important aspects of the university's future.
First and very importantly, let me address the need to strengthen our activities in the liberal arts, liberal sciences as well as the creative and performing arts. We need to strengthen these areas both on the St. John's campus of Memorial University as well as our Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook. These areas are essential to the well being of our university and to society. Not only do they add immeasurably to the quality of life, but they also foster creativity and understanding. Even more so than in the past, the future of civilization depends on the arts and sciences. I will work very
hard to make our liberal studies prosper within our own university as well as through partnerships with universities and agencies outside our province and country. I think that these fields offer excellent opportunities for international collaboration and we have a special opportunity due to our campus in Harlow, England. I will use my experience and connections to achieve these goals for the arts and sciences.
We all know that Newfoundland and Labrador are richly endowed with natural resources. Our fishery has been the mainstay of our life for centuries and it continues to have a bright future. I am encouraged by the advances that have been made in aquaculture and fish processing so that the financial value of our fishery is reaching an all time high in 1999. These advances attest to the ingenuity of our researchers and students as well as the ingenuity of countless men and women in the field of practice. We will continue our emphasis on the fishery or, more broadly, the marine sciences. In this case, we have natural advantages bestowed on us by history and geography. At Memorial University, we will build on these advantages so that large and
small communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador can once again thrive.
In addition to our biological resources, Newfoundland and Labrador are richly endowed with oil and gas. Hibernia, the first offshore petroleum platform, is in full production and several others are about to follow. In future, Memorial University will support oil and gas exploration, production, utilization and marketing through a forceful initiative soon to be unveiled. We will work in partnership with industry and government to offer educational programs, research capabilities and services. We will educate our students in advanced practices while engaging in innovative research and design. Amongst these will be the development of new ways to utilize offshore gas in ice-infested waters.
We will also focus on developing the nickel and hydroelectric resources of the province. These endeavours require not only technical solutions, but also innovative approaches to land-use and land ownership. In particular, we will research and develop effective ways of harmonizing the needs of our native people with those of the industrialized world. The social sciences will therefore be integral to our research and teaching in the areas of natural resource development.
Memorial University is an acknowledged leader in the health and social sciences. For example, our achievements in telemedicine, advanced nursing practice, social work and pharmaceutical sciences are well known. Similarly, many of our contributions in teacher education, business administration and entrepreneurship have been outstanding. There is no community in our province which has not benefitted from these achievements. They provide a strong base for future education, research and practice.
However, apart from opportunities, Memorial University also faces a serious problem. The problem is that over the next five to seven years, the number of high school graduates in our province will decline by 20 to 25 per cent. We can therefore expect the number of students at Memorial University to decline by a similar amount if we do not take action. And action we will take. We plan to attract more students from inside the province, especially those parts of the province which do not traditionally send many students to university. We think that a university education is the best preparation for the knowledge-intensive, highly competitive world in which we live. The heightened provincial recruitment process is already under way. We will also
attract students from other parts of Canada and from outside Canada. The purpose is not just to fill spaces which might otherwise be empty, but rather to increase the diversity of the student body. A great deal of learning goes on outside the class room, and what better way to learn than in the company of students from other parts of Canada and indeed the world?
For the first time in Memorial University's history, we are able to attract students from outside the province without displacing students from Labrador and Newfoundland. Serving the needs of the people of Labrador and Newfoundland will always be our first priority but we can do this even better now than in the past. Students from outside the province will learn about our capabilities, culture and values. I have no doubt that this knowledge will pay rich dividends.
In conclusion, I commit to fostering a climate of trust. I commit to clear and consistent communications. I commit to initiatives which will support the economic and cultural growth of Newfoundland and Labrador. I will ensure that being associated with Memorial University meets the expectations of its members and the community. We can make Memorial University into a university of distinction and fulfill our motto, “We shape the minds that shape the province”. There is much work to be done. Let us work together to achieve these goals for our university and for our province.