“What I’ve found the
most rewarding about
administration is the
opportunity to bring
about systemic change.”
Why I serve
Universities need to ensure
equity and access for all
by Sheila Cote-Meek
oozhoo. kwe kwe. greetings. bonjour.
This is my first column for University
Affairs and I’m honoured to have been
asked to take it on. It’s a bit intimidating
to think about writing a series of columns
about being an administrator. I wondered: Where
to start? What to write about? Importantly, I
thought about what I could contribute that might
be helpful as others contemplate entering administration. After much reflection, I thought I’d start
by introducing myself and telling you a bit about
how I arrived in my current position.
I’ve worked in academia since the early
1990s. When I embarked on my academic career,
the furthest thing from my mind was administration. In fact, I’d just come from a stint working
in management at a local college and had
decided to focus on teaching and research.
In my transition to university, I hoped to
make a meaningful contribution to increasing
Indigenous student success as well as contributing to the emerging field of Indigenous social
work. I did that work for just over a decade and
contributed to teaching, research and community engagement. I especially enjoyed being at
the forefront of establishing Indigenous social
work on a national level. When I reflect back on
my early years in academia, I realize now that I
always found myself being drawn to administrative duties, challenged by committee work and
work that focused on moving the broader issues
of access and equity forward. It may be in large
part what led me to administration.
I have spent the last decade or so providing
leadership in the Indigenous portfolio, which
has included strengthening relationships with
our Indigenous advisory council, developing
strategic action plans, fundraising for key initiatives within the Indigenous portfolio, and ensuring an Indigenous presence across faculties
in the university. In addition to the Indigenous
portfolio, I found myself taking on an expanded academic role that included university-faculty relations.
What I’ve found the most rewarding about
administration is that it has provided me an
opportunity to assist with bringing about systemic change for Indigenous learners, not only
to the university where I’m employed, but at the
provincial level. For example, I’ve been able to
contribute to raising the profile across the province of Indigenous peoples’ needs for education.
On the other hand, I’ve found it challenging
to juggle administrative work with teaching and
research. I suspect many academic administrators experience a similar struggle keeping one
foot in each camp. I have since had to make the
decision not to teach, but I still manage some
limited research, academic writing and graduate
supervision. I find that staying involved in
research and supervision has helped to keep me
balanced and has allowed me to maintain links
with the faculty.
In my mind, I’ve always remained an aca-
demic – although I’ve learned that is not how all
my colleagues view me. To many, I am a senior
administrator, part of that group that has crossed
over to what folks refer to as the other side. I was
never really sure what that meant, as I always
felt we were all on the same side.
From time to time I’ve asked myself, “so why
do I stay?” The answer isn’t always as simple as
“wanting to make a difference,” and sometimes
I’m ambivalent about staying. Despite my love
for teaching and research, I’ve remained a senior
administrator primarily because I do love the
challenges and also do love to see when strategic
directions come to fruition.
On the more challenging days, I still miss the
loss of freedom associated with being an academic. For the most part, though, I honestly enjoy
the more regulated hours of work and the clarity
of a plan. I enjoy resolving issues and moving
other issues forward. There is a sense of accomplishment when one looks back each year.
On a more personal note, much of my passion for my work rests in my personal lived experiences as an Indigenous woman. In my heart
and being, I strive to ensure places and spaces
of equity and access for all, and especially for
Indigenous peoples. In academia, I feel I can
make a difference. As a result, I have found
my career in administration quite rewarding.
Having just gone through the renewal process
for my position, I’m looking forward to the next
And I look forward to sharing with you my
experiences as an academic administrator over
this next year.
Sheila Cote-Meek is associate
vice-president, academic and
Indigenous programs, at Laurentian
University. Her column will appear
in every second issue.
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