Looking back on four years as Chancellor

My four-year term as Chancellor of the University of Calgary is coming to an end. It has been an enjoyable ride.

Many people think of the chancellor solely as the official who attends formal university events and participates in convocation. The chancellors of Alberta’s three largest universities have responsibilities that go beyond simply presiding over special ceremonies. In this province our responsibilities also include chairing the university Senate, serving on the Board of Governors and its executive committee, and fund-raising for scholarship and bursary programs.

During my term as chancellor, I have also participated with several stakeholder organizations to promote our university in the Calgary community and to advocate for post-secondary education. The opportunity to regularly meet with our undergraduate students – Canada’s next leaders – to encourage them in their studies and to share my thoughts about life and leadership has been a unique privilege.

The university Senate is in the process of its search for the new chancellor who will begin their term in July 2018.

Gillian Edwards of the University’s communications team recently queried me about my experiences as chancellor. Her questions prompted me to reflect on my term and to pass on advice to the person who will follow me.

  1. What has been the biggest surprise during your four years as Chancellor?

As Chancellor, I was constantly surprised and delighted – sort of like visiting Disneyland for four years straight! Our students and faculty delighted me with their remarkable achievements and passion for learning – they bolster my confidence in Canada’s future. A special highlight has been meeting the many volunteers in southern Alberta who generously serve on boards, committees and Senate to advance the University of Calgary’s bold vision. These ‘can-do’ citizens recognize the value of post-secondary education and are our university’s biggest supporters.

The members of the University of Calgary’s Senate are remarkable citizens. They understand the value of education and are willing to roll up their sleeves to advocate for the university.
Photo: Dave Brown

2. What has been your favourite event / activity and why?

I have enjoyed planning and hosting the Chancellor’s Club events. During these evening galas, we showcase our university’s niche areas of research and academic excellence in an informative and entertaining manner. I also take the opportunity at the events to introduce our current Chancellor’s Scholars – a group of extraordinary undergraduate students – to our Club members. Past Scholars have gone on to become notable leaders in our communities and nation.

Hosting Chancellor’s Club events has allowed me to meet esteemed civic leaders and UCalgary advocates.

I am gratified to play a small role in the education of the Chancellor’s Scholars. They are remarkable young people who will be Canada’s future leaders. Photo by Dave Brown




3. What is the most challenging aspect of the role?

My biggest challenge has been the mortarboard that I must wear during convocation ceremonies! The hat is not easy to wear, nor stylish. Perhaps my head is irregularly shaped, but the dorky hat slides off my head and needs to be continually re-adjusted. Grrr! I’ll gladly fling it away in relief following my last convocation ceremony.

Our nursing graduates from the University of Calgary in Qatar are elevating the standard of healthcare in the Persian Gulf. Photo by Ian Thompson

On each visit to campus, I meet with one research team and tour one lab. Here I am having the bony microarchitecture of my ankle assessed by Dr. Steven Boyd’s micro-computed tomography scanner.

4. What advice might you give yourself (or wish you had known) when you started out as Chancellor?

Curb your enthusiasm! When I first arrived, I eagerly wished to learn everything about the university and all that is going on in its laboratories and lecture halls. I wanted to meet all the cool people who work and study here.

I quickly learned that was impossible. The University of Calgary is a large, multifaceted institution. There is so much going on that it would take a lifetime to see it all.

5. What is next for you in your career – after space travel and being Chancellor?

Ha! My wife would like to answer this question. The Chancellor role has been such a significant commitment of time and energy that I have agreed to not take on any new ventures for one year.

However, I have recently begun an assignment with the federal government to position the Canadian Space Agency for an international role on the upcoming cis-lunar space station. We are planning a substantial contribution to deep space exploration that builds upon Canadian strengths in clinical medicine and healthcare innovation. This work could continue for a few more years. Exciting stuff!

The international space community will begin assembly of a cis-lunar (i.e., near Moon) space station next decade. Canada will likely be a partner in the venture. Courtesy NASA

6. Any tips for the next Chancellor?

  • Have fun. Use the opportunity to do things that you’ve never done before.
  • The university wishes to benefit from your unique perspectives and experiences. Overlay your term as Chancellor with a personal theme – a principle or value that you hold dear.
  • Pace yourself. The role can be too demanding if you don’t put limits on it.
  • Call on me and the other Chancellors Emeriti, when needed. We continue to advocate for the university and will always be willing to help.

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