A Presidential year in review

I had the opportunity to sit down with King’s President, Bill Lahey, to discuss his first year on campus. Here are some of his favourite memories from the year, and what he’s looking forward to in 2017/2018.

Q: How does it feel now that your first year is coming to an end?

A: It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year. It seems like I just started yesterday, but I’m reasonably happy with how the year has gone. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the King’s community and participating in the life of the college. In particular, I’ve liked getting to know what I think is a fair number of students, and having the opportunities to show interest in the activities and events that the students care about. I’ve also enjoyed getting to know our wonderful faculty and working in collaboration with them as well as the rest of our staff. I’m beginning to get to know more and more of our alumni this semester, as I didn’t really have as many opportunities to do that earlier in the year, in part because I was spending my time doing things like attending almost every FYP lecture and activities of the sort. I’m finding that now I’m starting to get out a little bit more and meet alumni, which is exhilarating and exciting as well. It’s nice to see how a King’s education leads people to so many wonderful careers after their time at King’s.

Q: Now that the year is over, what would you say are your biggest accomplishments for the year?

A: We made some appointments to our board that allowed the board to be more diverse than it was before. We gave the opportunity to nominate people for board positions, which I think was an important step toward improving the relationships between the members of the board and the faculty in particular. We decided officially that we were not going to reset tuition, which I think was a very important thing to decide one way or the other, and I’m pleased that we managed to put it to rest. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but we’re spending a lot of time trying to make sure that the college is governed in a way that is both collegial and reasonably efficient. So working through the relationships with all the different processes, and committees and offices that have to be involved when we do anything of major college-wide significance. We’re trying to get the processes as aligned as possible, and I think we’ve made some progress in that regard. I’m hopeful that we’re about to make some decisions on faculty members that have been in sessional positions for many years, and I think that’s something really important that we need to address. I’m hopeful that we’ll be doing that in the near future.

Q: What are your big plans for next year?

A: I guess one thing that I didn’t mention is that in the last year we’ve put a lot of effort into recruitment and retention of students, and I think we’re finally seeing some benefits from that. We’re going to continue increased efforts in that regard, and I’m optimistic that our enrollments are going to incrementally improve in future years. I think that it’s crucial to the college’s future to continue the process of renewing the faculty and creating new tenure-track positions. It’s not something we’re going to be able to do a lot on in the short term, but it’s an area where I’m determined that we make further progress on in the future. Mental health services for students is critically important. Again, this is something that can be improved over time, but I think this is somewhere else where we need to see growth. I thought the two stories, both on sessionals and the lack of diversity at King’s, in the Watch recently were both great stories and were very helpful in bringing our attention to those issues. As a kind of personal priority, I’ve spent a lot of time watching sporting events and going to performances of the King’s Theatrical Society, participating in the life of the Chapel; these being three examples of things that I think really enrich the student lives here at King’s. I’d like to see us supporting those kinds of things and making them stronger in the future. The last thing I’ll mention, I think one thing that we need to do more as a college is to give our students even more opportunities than they already have to learn through the application of what they learn in the classroom, in real-world environments. Some people call that [experiential] learning and there’s a lot of emphasis on that right now at Dalhousie, and I think it would be very beneficial to our students to provide them with opportunities of that nature.

Q: Everyone has noticed how much time you spend with students around campus; do you think that this is something you’ll continue in the upcoming year?

A: I do it because I enjoy it. I think that at King’s the president should be expected to be accessible, and to show real direct, personal interest in faculty, students and staff, in terms of the experience they’re having. It’s my job to get to know as many students as possible and to try and be known by as many students as possible. I think that that’s one of the things that should really differentiate us from other universities.

Q: Is there anything that you wish you had done differently this year? Any regrets?

A: I can’t really say that there’s too much that I regret at the end of the day. You always wish that there are certain things that could happen more quickly, but it’s the nature of a university, and an academic environment, that people expect for things to be discussed and for extensive consultation to take place. While that is how it should be, the result can sometimes be that getting some things approved, or implemented, that to you seem fairly straightforward or obviously necessary, takes longer than you feel it should. Unavoidably there are always those frustrations, but I’ve been a university professor for more than 15 years, so I’m kind of accustomed to working in environments where things take longer than they may need to, where discussion is needed before action takes place.

Q: Is lowering tuition a priority for the work you do here at King’s?

A: I’m glad you asked that question, because even though we’re not doing the reset, I realize our tuition is still relatively expensive in comparison to other universities, and our fees are higher here than they are at other Maritime universities. Given the financial situation that we’re in, it would be irresponsible to say that we’re able to do much in the way of lowering those in the immediate future, but I’m certainly open to reconsidering what our tuition and fees look like relative to other universities. When we get back to a position where we feel confident that we have the enrollment, that we know can properly fund the university, that’s when we can really have those discussions. I know that the KSU and other student organizations tell me that scholarships and bursaries are not a satisfactory answer, but I do really think that they are a part of the answer. A focus of my fundraising activities in the future will be to raise more money for the financial assistance, so they are more generally available, and so that we have those that are competitive to the ones found at other universities.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: One thing I will say, the thing that I miss the most is being a full-time teacher. I’m teaching one course this term at the Law School, and I was able to teach briefly in the Journalism 1001 class, but for the past 16 years I have been teaching more than three classes a term, and I miss that. I love the relationship that I get to have with the students here, but it’s episodic. It’s little conversations at the margins of the lives of students, whereas when you’re a professor, you have a much more expansive and holistic relationship with your students. That’s always been a part of being in higher education, and that’s definitely something I miss. So now my job is to support others that are getting to do the teaching, which is also rewarding. I’ve taken in a lot of the FYP program, which has been a great opportunity for me, and I think I’ll keep doing that next year, and in subsequent years. I learn so much about the world just by sitting in on the lectures with the students, and listening to the great professors that we have here, and share their wisdom. I’ve really enjoyed my first year here at King’s, and I’m very grateful for the welcome that my partner and I have been given, and that our dog Casey has been given. And I’m very much looking forward to the future. I’m very confident that King’s has a strong future. Great past, but a stronger future.