A president reflects
Dalhousie’s 200th year has been a special one, with so many inspiring events happening across campus. I’ve had the pleasure of helping open amazing new spaces for students and faculty, award honorary degrees to national and international thought leaders, and toast the start of this great university’s third century.
Significant anniversaries like these are a time to look back and celebrate our achievements, to thank those who have helped us along the way, and to dream about what’s next. And there has been so much to celebrate and be grateful for, with Dalhousie’s enrolment, research income and fundraising all reaching new heights.
Anniversaries also represent both an ending and a beginning, and it’s that “ending” part that is bittersweet for me personally. Back in June, I shared the news that I would be leaving Dalhousie in the new year to lead the new Quantum Valley Ideas Lab in Waterloo, Ontario. It’s an opportunity to return to my roots as a physicist, helping to establish Canada as a global leader in quantum technology—one of the most exciting fields in science and tech today.
Still, it was not a decision made lightly. When my family and I moved to Halifax in 2013, we knew we were arriving someplace special. There has long been a connection between the Prairies (where we came from) and the Maritimes, and people from one always seem to feel at home in the other. The talent, the commitment, the spectacular achievement of the students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners who make up this university community—it has all been, simply put, inspiring. I am so thankful and grateful to everyone for the experience of the past five-and-a-half years—an experience I will carry with me for a lifetime.
In a knowledge age, Dalhousie’s mission of teaching, research and service is more relevant than ever and we must continue to forcefully advance our mission on a global scale.
Above all else, I’m proud of what we were able to achieve together. The sense of celebration this year is about more than a milestone number. It’s about the momentum we’re seeing through our shared achievements. It’s about solidifying Dalhousie as the leading research university in Atlantic Canada, strengthening our connections across the region. And it’s about taking our place as a truly global institution, one that is bringing together the world’s best minds to take on the great challenges of our time.
Reflecting back on my time as president, there are three themes that stand out.
The first is dreaming big.
Dalhousie is no longer that “little college by the sea,” and hasn’t been for some time. In 2016, Dal earned the largest research grant in Canada that year for our Ocean Frontier Institute—an initiative bringing together our best ocean researchers with the best in the region and in the world. Dalhousie researchers have won Canada’s top science prize—the Herzberg Gold Medal—in three out of the past five years (Ford Doolittle, Axel Becke and Jeff Dahn). And there has been a Dalhousie Rhodes Scholar nearly every year of my time here—91 now, in total, a number which only a handful of other North American schools can claim. In a knowledge age, Dalhousie’s mission of teaching, research and service is more relevant than ever. We must continue to forcefully advance our mission on a global scale, particularly in areas of unique strength and relevance to our region, and across all of our academic disciplines as befits a truly world-class research university.
The second is the importance of kindness.
Universities are vital to our society’s efforts to build a better world, which means we are often at the forefront of reckoning with the problems of our current one. Some of the most challenging issues Dalhousie has faced in recent years have been about ensuring an academic community where everyone belongs. But these issues have also motivated incredible, inspiring work across the university. This work continues, because the journey towards a more inclusive university and society is constantly moving forward. As Dalhousie works to better support its growing community of international students and scholars, and to live up to its special responsibility to Indigenous Peoples in Canada—especially to the people of Mi’kma’ki—and to the African Nova Scotian community, it should do so with openness, commitment and kindness.
Finally, there’s the idea that nobody does anything alone.
This is a phrase I’ve said quite often during my presidency, and one that my Dalhousie experience has proved true time and time again. It’s not just that the greatest opportunities and challenges facing the world are too large and too complex for any one discipline, institution, or even country to tackle alone. It’s that there are so many partners out there eager to work with a great institution like Dalhousie. Think about how the experience of our students and researchers in Engineering, Architecture and Planning has been forever changed by the IDEA Project, which has transformed half of our Sexton campus, or how our Fountain School of Performing Arts will be similarly transformed by the revitalizing of our Dalhousie Arts Centre. These aren’t just simply infrastructure projects. They are collaborations that unite governments, donors, industry, students and the university around shared opportunities to make a difference, not just for our academic experience, but our broader community. Universities can bring people together like few other institutions in society—one of our very greatest strengths.
I conclude with the advice I offered in my Bicenntennial Address earlier this year: that Dalhousie must continue to strive to be intelligent, inclusive and inspiring. To be a place that develops ideas, knowledge and talent to build a better world. Where we reconcile our past and draw on the diverse strengths of all people. Where creativity, courage and compassion are inspired. Where the best of our region connect with the best in the world, for the benefit of all.
Dalhousie’s future is bright. It has been remarkable, and a true privilege, to help that future take shape over my five-and-a-half years as president. And while it’s bittersweet to hand over the reins to another president to lead Dalhousie into it third century, I can assure you: the best is yet to come.