Talking With the Presidents

Concordia president Alan Shepard. Photo by Corey Pool

Continuing the tradition of The Link’s Talking With the Presidents series, News Editor Andrew Brennan sat down with the presidents of Concordia and its student union to talk about getting oriented, getting results and getting back into the swing of things for a new year.

One year into his tenure as Concordia president, Alan Shepard has settled into his role—but that doesn’t mean he is going to get complacent.

“I have several things I am thinking about with my team,” said Shepard, mentioning that a major focus will be on what he refers to as “academic renewal.”

This includes more efforts to support multidisciplinary research, according to Shepard, with about 10 “strategic hires” added to the university’s payroll to promote the effort.

“These are multidisciplinary hires designed to cross departmental, academic and intellectual boundaries, because a lot of the most exciting work in higher education and universities is taking place in the interstices between two disciplines,” said Shepard.

“We’re setting aside a base funding to hire people who can make those kinds of multidisciplinary leaps and contributions,” he continued. “Students, I think, want this and people find it very exciting to see their own discipline intersecting with others in new ways, so that’s kind of a key goal.”

On Beta-Testing Blended In-Class/Online Courses

“We need to continue grappling with online learning—the way in which it’s going to change not just Concordia, but every university on the planet, and we probably need to accelerate our engagement with that change,” he said.

“Where I think the real action is, is in the blended [courses]—so partly online, partly face-to-face.

“We’ve appointed a new Vice-Provost just this week, Cathy Bolton, in teaching and learning [….] she’s fully engaged in questions of online learning and the beta-testing [of them], so what we’ve agreed as an executive team is that we’re going to go ahead this year with some experiments and we’re going to set aside some money.”

On the Proposed Quebec Charter of Values

“It is a contentious issue; there’s really been no discussion in the administration yet about it. I’ve had a couple of profs write to me expressing their distress,” said Shepard. 

“Individual faculty members are certainly free, this is what academic freedom is all about; they can react. As a university president I don’t have the same luxury of reacting that way […] I have to think always about protecting and promoting Concordia University rather than my own particular ideas about these matters. 

“What I said to the profs was: one of Concordia’s great strengths is its diversity, and I mean that quite sincerely,” Shepard added.  

“There’s almost no business that I can think of now where you can pretend it’s not a global world and succeed. So, we need to have a community that’s really diverse—and we do and it’s a huge strength for us—and I would do everything that I can to protect that diversity and to celebrate it.”

From the Student Prospective

CSU president Melissa Kate Wheeler. Photo by Erin Sparks

She may have taken office three months ago, but with school back in session and Orientation beginning as this issue hits the stands, Concordia Student Union President Melissa Kate Wheeler is running around more and more and sleeping less and less.

“I’m at Aubut [a food distributor] right now and we’re picking up the most club soda I’ve seen in my life, tablecloths, onions, Doritos, everything that we need,” she told The Link  Sunday, adding that it was one of the final stops in “the last big scramble” before the CSU’s Orientation starting Tuesday, Sept. 3. 

Orientation may only last until mid-September, but Wheeler said she believes it sets a tone for the year. With one of her major goals being revitalizing interest in student politics among undergraduates, the CSU has its work cut out to build on any potential successes gleaned from Orientation.

On Budding Relations

“Building relationships with the faculty associations has been a big priority for us, [as well as] building relationships with our students by throwing them an amazing Orientation Week and continuing to throw events that engage them and inspire them to get involved,” Wheeler said.

“We’ve had to make some changes to the way certain things are done, especially during Orientation. And we were a little bit concerned—like the concert, for example, isn’t free this year, it’s $10.00—but it’s an amazing location and we were able to get two really great DJs.

“And so far, we’ve been met with overwhelming support and excitement from students who’ve talked to us about this event.”

On Being a Senator and on the Board of Governors

“I’m ready for the challenge, I’m reading up a lot on university policy, going through a lot of documentation to prepare myself for it, because I don’t assume to really understand what I’ve gotten myself into at this point,” Wheeler laughed.

“Erik Chevrier is the graduate student representative, Melanie Hotchkiss is the alternate governor for undergrads, and the three of us, I think, make a good team of student reps.

“So I’m really happy to be working with them, they’re very, very strong. I take [governance] very seriously and I’m preparing really, really hard for it.”

On Breaking the CSU Mould

“I think the most important thing for us this year has been not being afraid to take chances and not being afraid to go against the status quo of the CSU, because there are some things that have been done year in and year out that just don’t work anymore,” said Wheeler.

“Identifying those [things] and trying new things is terrifying sometimes, because you don’t know how it’s going to go,” she continued.

“But we have a strong team and a good sense, I think, of what we need to do.”