It was with humility and much anticipation that I formally assumed the Presidency of St. Francis Xavier University on October 6, 2014. As StFX enters its 162nd year, my instalment as the 18th President opened a new chapter in the history of this venerable university; a new chapter that provides a bridge between the traditions of StFX and some of the social changes that are at the heart of the many challenges facing universities today.
I have confirmed that StFX faculty, our staff, our Board of Governors,, our students and the broader StFX Community will develop an exciting new strategic plan for StFX in the winter of 2015. However this Instalment celebration gave me the opportunity to share three general principles that will guide me during my term as President. These three principles – each with two objectives – will serve as my bridge to connect rich and wonderful StFX traditions to some of the social changes facing our university.
1. Entrench our Academic Purpose
My first principle is based on my belief that we need to recommit and entrench StFX’s Academic Purpose. I deeply believe StFX provides Canada’s Premier Undergraduate Experience. However, I also believe that it is the right time to re-think and clarify this experience – to articulate our promise more clearly to our students and to determine how is it that all students will have the opportunity to live this experience. Therefore, during my time as president, we will accomplish two specific objectives in regard to this first principle.
1). The StFX academic community will collaboratively create a strategic plan that will clearly state our purpose – our mission – our priorities – our goals. In each case, these will be driven by the belief that the StFX Experience must first be an exemplary academic learning experience for our students.
2). During my first term as President, I would like to see StFX will strengthen one specific area of our teaching, research and service mission. Specifically, by the end of my first term, we will embed an addition $1 million for research into our annual budget – $1 million so that our faculty and our students are better able to fulfill their important research agenda including research in support of teaching.
I am convinced that a re-commitment to our academic purpose at this time will help ensure StFX remains one of Canada’s pre-eminent universities.
2. Extending our Global Reach
My second principle is related to my belief that universities exist to make the world a better place. As I look at what is happening around the world today including the unfolding health tragedy in West Africa, the ongoing geo-political uncertainties in the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq as well as other global challenges, it seems fair to say that the world is as complex today as ever before. It also seems reasonable to share my belief that the world today needs a little more Canada.
The good news is that I believe StFX is uniquely positioned to prepare students for a flat and more connected world. Here again, it is my intention to accomplish two objectives under this second principle.
1). We will develop a comprehensive StFX Internationalization strategy that will clarify and enhance our international capacity. This will position StFX as an even more global enterprise and the good news is that StFX is the envy of every university in Canada. On the StFX campus today we have some of the worlds great thought leaders on this matter at our very own Coady International Institute. We will better embrace the expertise that resides in Coady to help us develop and implement this internationalization plan.
2). We will extend our global impact by increasing our international student population to 10% of our total enrolment. That percent seems about right to me for a university like ours and it means our campus will become home to 500 highly talented students from around the world.
By committing to creating more global impact – we move StFX from a national university to one that can make the world a better place. It is something that Moses Coady himself would be proud.
Enhancing Student Access
The third principle that will guide my term as President is related to those who want to come to StFX – our students. This final principle is likely my most important because it is fundamentally linked to our historical commitment to educate all talented students regardless of means. As the cost of higher education continues to rise, I believe we have a duty to ensure that StFX remains accessible to all highly motivated and talented students.
We must make enrolment management a primary focus of how we operate as a university and we must be fanatically focused on efforts to find and enrol the very best students from around the world. Further, we must measure our success not in terms of how many people come to StFX – but rather how many students graduate from StFX.
Once again I propose two objectives for this third principle.
1). By the end of my first term as President, I am committed to working with faculty to increase total enrolment to 5000 students. I have met with our planners and we have both the residential space and the classroom space to achieve this goal.
2). There is one specific barrier that stands in our way to achieving our overall success and that is the growing cost of attending an elite institution life StFX. Faculty and staff have made it clear to me that we are not keeping up with some of our peer institutions in terms of the scholarships and bursaries we provide our students. Too many talented students are choosing other institutions based on cost not necessarily quality. To that end, we will create The Xaverian Legacy Fund. This fund will provide much needed bursaries and scholarships to our students – a legacy fund that will help all talented students to attend StFX regardless of their family’s bank account.
Specifically, over the next five years, it is my objective to raise $25 million dollars for student scholarships and bursaries so that the most talented students, regardless of background can attend StFX and attain their degree.
These are strange and exciting times within higher education. Yet I believe StFX remains one of Canada’s great universities and I believe the three principles presented at my Instalment and repeated in this blog will help bridge the gap between the historical traditions of StFX and the constant social change we are trying to navigate today.