U of C president reports to community

By Cam Cotton-O’Brien

The University of Calgary bared itself last week as it gave its fourth annual report to the community.

Held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in a high-ceilinged, ornamentally carpeted ballroom surrounded by displays showcasing the various projects the university is engaged in, sandwiches were served and all were regaled by a 30-minute speech from U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten. He began his speech setting the tone of the lunch on the issue of change.

“I’m going to tell you something that I think you know, and that you should know the University of Calgary believes strongly,” said Weingarten. “To be a successful, relevant, and useful university we must be not only open to change, we have to embrace change, and in fact, we have to do what great universities do, and that is lead change in our society.”

Early in the speech Weingarten addressed the university’s pursuit and hiring of many high-achieving faculty members.

“Nothing speaks more loudly to the quality of the university than the quality of the people who work and study at the university,” said Weingarten. “And we are attracting top-flight faculty. In the last six months alone, we have signed up about 95 new faculty, who have come to Calgary from around the world.”

In a later interview, Weingarten elaborated on the U of C’s hiring policy.

“We identify areas where we need professors,” he said. “We advertise globally, we go through a rigorous interview process and then the departments pick the faculty members that best match the needs of the university, and of the students.”

The U of C is known for its research, and that fact was highlighted by Weingarten.

“The model of research in universities, since about World War Two, has gone something like this: universities go out and we hire smart people, these smart people, these faculty members conduct research in their area of interest and if it is their inclination, they then seek to apply or commercialize that research, in some way, to some societal issue,” said Weingarten. “[There is a] different model of research that we are promoting at the U of C, that in fact works exactly the reverse direction. We start by identifying problems in our society that need solutions. These could be problems of homelessness, or environmentally responsible energy use. Then we identify the research that we must do to fill the knowledge gaps, in order to solve these problems, and then we go and we hire the people, we assemble the teams, often coming from different disciplines, who conduct the research necessary to solve that problem. In this model, application or commercialization is not an afterthought, rather it’s the reason the research has been conducted in the first place. This model of doing research is also incredibly attractive to students.”

Weingarten later addressed how it was decided which societal issues should be addressed. In addition, he emphasized that not all the university’s research energy was directed in this manner.

“The problems that many of our people work on are defined by the community,” said Weingarten. “These are issues out there in the community, and the society identifies these as significant issues that need some attention and need some solutions. Not all the research that’s done by our students, our faculty, our scholars is targeted. There are things that people work on that represent their particular interests and passions that may only represent a small societal group.”

He also commented on concerns that this research emphasis could detract from professors ability to instruct students.

“There are hundreds of faculty members who teach our students because they are securing their own salaries through research funding,” said Weingarten. “There are facilities that students study in, archives they have access to, and laboratories they study in, that are here because of research grants that have been obtained by faculty members. They increasingly engage students in those research opportunities, and the students are telling us that they are valuable educational engagements.”

Weingarten also commented on how the university is attempting to make itself accessible to all potential students who posses the requisite qualifications. He noted that both financial issues and lack of space in some faculties currently limit accessibility.

“We have relocated a lot of dollars to student financial aid, and we target a lot of fundraising for student financial aid,” he said. “It’s [lack of accessibility] has as much to do with capacity as financial issues. We get many more qualified applicants than we can accept, particularly in some faculties. We go and we try to secure resources to create more spots. This year we added nursing spots, law school spots. We are adding about 1,000 students in the next 4 years. These are areas where we are getting a lot of demand, and these are areas where we work with the government to increase resources for those areas.”

The speech concluded with a thank you to the community, government and those contributing directly to the success of the university. Each attendee of the speech received a low-energy, compact fluorescent light bulb, signifying the university’s real-world research.

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