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Concordia University of Edmonton

CUE: Canada’s preeminent small university

Posted on: Feb 1, 2017

The following is the full text of Concordia’s president Dr. Tim Loreman’s speech to the Concordia community at our town hall meeting today.

It is my pleasure to be able to enter into a dialogue with representatives of the entire Concordia community all in one place for the first time as president.

Our topic today is “Canada’s preeminent small university”. This is what I would like to see Concordia become over the course of my presidency. Does this mean that we are shifting away from our tagline as ‘Edmonton’s University’? Not at all. Being viewed as Edmonton’s University and Canada’s preeminent small university go hand in hand. We will be both.

But what does being Canada’s preeminent small university mean? I have chosen the word ‘preeminent’ deliberately. It can at times be switched out with terms such as  ‘leading’, or ‘foremost’ (as in Canada’s leading small university or Canada’s foremost small university) but I prefer the term ‘preeminent’. Preeminent means highly distinguished or outstanding. We can be preeminent without demeaning the work of other institutions. If we are preeminent we are excellent, exalted, distinguished, and outstanding, all of which other institutions can also be if they are capable of it. We are not in competition with other institutions on this matter. Far from it, as collaboration is critical.  The point is, this can and should be our focus.

Striving to be Canada’s preeminent small university sets us apart. We are not trying to be a large comprehensive research institution. We are trying to be who we are, and to distinguish ourselves in being just that. But it does involve some changes to what we do in order to thoroughly fulfill our Mission and Vision. As a reminder, our Mission is…

Mission

Concordia University of Edmonton is a community of learning grounded in scholarship and academic freedom, preparing students to be independent thinkers, ethical leaders and citizens for the common good.

Vision

Concordia University of Edmonton will be recognized nationally and internationally for its graduates’ knowledge, skill, integrity, and wisdom.

Now, it is easy for me to stand up here and say that I would like Concordia to become Canada’s preeminent small university, but what does that mean in practice? How will we know when we arrive at that point, and how will we get there?

In short, I don’t really know, and me not knowing is a good thing. I’ll deal first with the issue of us knowing when we have arrived. There are no metrics that will tell us that. The beautiful thing about this, in my opinion, is that we as a community have the opportunity here to set our own set of outcomes and measures that, once attained, will tell us very clearly that we are Canada’s preeminent small university. We can work together to devise what will be accomplished and what metrics we will use to know that. In short, we look into the future, we say ‘we want to be like that’, and then we work to get there. This will be done collegially.

That being said, I think the place to start is perhaps by looking for direction in our Mission and Vision statement. For example, it references us being a ‘community of learning’.  We can ask ourselves what an exceptional community of learning looks like.  There is reference in the Mission statement to scholarship and academic freedom.  What does excellence in that area look like for a small university? There is reference in our Vision statement to national and international recognition. What sort of recognition demonstrates that we are Canada’s preeminent small university? Finally, and most importantly, the Mission and Vision statements reference the types of graduates we want to produce. So, if Concordia is striving to be known as outstanding, our graduates need to be also. But how is this to be measured?

There is another place we can also look. When I was running for president I proposed 10 goals for a 10-year presidency. They were:

  1. Define and articulate our identity.
  2. Students are central to all initiatives.
  3. Enhanced political and community engagement.
  4. Concordia looking like, acting like, and perhaps being an open public institution.
  5. Enhancing opportunities for Indigenous learning.
  6.  A healthy international focus.
  7.  A healthy focus on research and scholarship
  8.  A focus on institutional sustainability.
  9. Inclusion
  10. Improved program quality and retention.

I have not forgotten these goals, and I believe they might form the basis of what it means to be Canada’s preeminent small university. They certainly act in concert with our institutional Mission and Vision.  As a president who listens, of course, I’m not going to be entirely dogmatic about the adoption of these goals. That is a decision that must be made by more people than just me. But they might act as part of the foundation of our work together in this area.

So let me raise some questions based on what I have said above.

  • Does Canada’s preeminent small university produce nationally and internationally recognized graduates that result from a focus on robust learning experiences delivered on a ‘human scale’?
  • Does Canada’s preeminent small university provide programs that have clear career paths, aimed at post-graduation employment and graduate school?
  • Do faculty at Canada’s preeminent small university engage in research and scholarship that are primarily aimed at improving their currency and effectiveness in teaching and, where feasible, helping the community?
  • Is Canada’s preeminent small university inclusive and welcoming to all, regardless of race, religion, country of origin, disability, gender, sexual identity, or other types of diversity?

As you can see, from all I have said, there is a lot of work to be done on constructing an image of what Canada’s preeminent small university looks like at the end of it all. This is not my job. It is not the Board’s job. This is everyone’s job.

And next comes the question of how we get there. Once again, I don’t know how, and until we know what Canada’s preeminent small university looks like it is hard to say much in this respect. You need to know the destination before you can map out how to get there. Once again, a collegial process to work out what happens here is the best approach. Everyone has to have skin in the game. Everyone is responsible for ensuring success.

Our community at Concordia is strong enough to accomplish the objective of being Canada’s preeminent small university. We already have an extremely solid foundation upon which to base our work. Take a minute to look around you. Our students are bright, motivated, and enthusiastic. Our faculty, in my opinion, rate amongst the best in the country. Our staff are highly dedicated and every day I’m grateful for what they do. Our administration consistently work in the best interests of our students and institution, and they work extremely hard. Our Board are dedicated, driven, and wonderful stewards of our university. Our Alumni do us proud. If this isn’t a formula for success, I don’t know what is. Indeed, we are already a good way down the road.

Finally, in this short speech I have used the term ‘Canada’s preeminent small university’ 16 times. If I am starting to sound repetitive, get used to it. If this is the direction we are going to head I’m going to say it loud and often. I’m proud of Concordia and there is no question in my mind that this lofty goal is attainable.

Thank you for listening, and for taking the time to attend our Town Hall today.