“A smart and caring nation, one where all
Canadians can succeed, contribute and develop
their talents to their fullest potential.”
world. Without being complacent, we do public education very well, at all
levels. And therefore we have both an opportunity and a responsibility to
share what we do with other nations around the world.
In the higher education area, when you look at the combination of
colleges and universities, we have a very good combination of diverse
institutions that other [countries] are looking at. We have been able to
build the research and the teaching enterprise together, whereas in many
parts of the world it’s split and should not be. And I think we manage the
movement from school to work better than most nations do.
We also have a system of education that is largely affordable, in part
because it is progressive, and while we do have tuition fees, we have good
federal-provincial schemes that provide support for students according
to their financial-aid needs. These are all important achievements that I
think can be shared with the rest of the world, and Brazil is a country that
happens to be a very appropriate pairing with Canada, as seen by Prime
Minister Harper’s recent visit there.
Q: You are a big champion of study abroad programs. Why is that?
A: First of all, my own experience: I grew up in a little town in northern
Ontario and I had the extraordinary good fortune to study in the U.S. and
then the U.K. and then back in Canada. I think I’m a better law professor
and lawyer and university administrator because of those experiences of
Secondly, I’ve seen it with my daughters. All five of my daughters began
exchanges at age 12, and they’re proud Canadian citizens but they are
citizens of the world. … What I see in my children is that not only do they
become more tolerant people by deep exposure to other cultures, but they
become more critical in the best sense, and more respectful of difference,
and they realize that difference and diversity enriches, and we’re enriched
by it. I would like every Canadian university student to have the experience
that my children had. So, that is my motivation for international education. I really think that Canada has a great opportunity to be the Athens
of the 21st century, that small nation whose intellectual power pervaded
the whole world of the Roman Empire.
Q: You have also talked about the need to honour and cherish our teachers
and mentors. How do we, as individuals and as institutions, do that?
A: Very personally, my life has been dramatically changed by many teachers
and mentors over the years – above and beyond my family. I simply think
[teachers] are such a powerful influence on our lives. And how do we
encourage that? By those of us who’ve been fortunate to have a number
of great teachers, celebrating that and encouraging the recognition of
teachers. … In so doing I think we create a culture of appreciation and
aspiration that teaching in its variety of forms is important.
Q: This interview is taking place in the context of the 100th anniversary
of AUCC, and this fall the association is celebrating a meeting of presidents
that took place in Montreal, at McGill, in 1911.
A: Mr. William Peterson was principal of McGill at that time. I remember
a reference to that at some point when I was at McGill.
Q: At that early meeting and the next one in Toronto, some university leaders
emphasized the importance of universities to cooperate more closely to
develop “a truly national spirit.” Do you think AUCC is trying to do that,
and is it succeeding?
A: Trying, and succeeding very well. It’s essential that it does. The international front is one where I think we have such a contribution to make
and such benefit to gain from closer interaction with other institutions
around the world. Two, I think that AUCC is very helpful, from my earlier
comment, in the way this country works best when we collaborate and …
can be much more powerful in that way. Three, AUCC is simply a very
good vehicle for exchanging best practices … particularly for administrators
to get the opportunity to gather together to share ideas and recharge our
batteries with new ideas.
Q: Some have said it’s a very lonely job, being a university president.
A: It can be. I think it’s the best job in the world. And I say that because the
cause and the company are so good. The cause – the idealism of higher
education in the development of society – is such an important and noble
one. And the company – the people you associate with – are so interesting
and attractive. You get these really bright students, they’ve passed all these
hurdles so that even someone like me can’t do any damage to them, and
then dealing with your faculty and staff, who by and large are people
talented in ways that they could have done other things with their lives