Presidents Choice

Meet your candidates for King’s next president.

story and photos by Whitney Cant

After whittling down a list of about 30 applicants, Bob Mann and the presidential selection committee have narrowed it down to three.
Dr. Jure Gantar (Dalhousie University), Dr. Anne Leavitt (University of Vancouver Island), and Dr. Donald Desserud (University of New Brunswick St. John) are the candidates to be the next president of the University of King’s College. Mann says the committee looked for the basics of “administrative leadership experience and academics,” and will choose the next president based on meetings with school stakeholders and feedback from members of the King’s community. The final decision will be made by April.
The candidates’ presentations, which spanned a week in February, provided insight into their thoughts about King’s.
Gantar (Dalhousie Univate Dean of Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and a self-proclaimed “shameless fan of King’s,” spoke highly of the King’s community. He described having King’s students in his theatre classes at Dalhousie as a “privilege” because of their clear passion for learning. “They almost appear to be looking for subjects that are difficult to comprehend,” he said.
Gantar’s presentation focused on the history and the future of liberal arts education, which for him is epitomized in his favourite bumper sticker, ‘What would Plato do?’ “The future of our economy rests on liberal arts graduates specifically because these are the only ones capable of providing fresh ideas,” he said. He recognized that King’s instills in its students a unique approach to learning and gives them a well-earned sense of pride.

Dr. Jure Gantar

The Watch: What do you love most about King’s that makes you want to be president?
Jure Gantar: The quality of the students and the attitude of the colleagues. It seems that there’s always an intellectual discussion going on. King’s students seem to want to learn about complicated things.
TW: What do you most want to keep the same at King’s and what do you most want to change?
JG: The atmosphere and traditions (are) a kind of thing that should be maintained. King’s has history, King’s has traditions. Of course you have ideas, but see what the institution wants as a whole and then change those things.
TW: What relationship would you like to have with King’s students if you were selected as president?
JG: The immediacy of interaction. You see students on a daily basis outside the house. I think it’s nice to be around and hear what they actually have to say.

Leavitt, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Vancouver Island University (VIU), shies away from the constrictive label of philosopher, instead considering herself “a liberal artist.” As an undergrad, Leavitt “stumbled upon” philosophy and began a lasting friendship with FYP celebrities like Descartes, Marx, and Plato.
In her discussion, Leavitt referred to Plato’s cave theory, using it to support her opinion that “undisciplined freedom is really not freedom at all,” but much more constricting than the extremely structured FYP. “(The prisoner) has to be forced out to arrive at a destination not planned and not known in advance,” she said. Since she discovered philosophy, Leavitt has been on a “25-year odyssey” with the liberal arts, building the academic programs of VIU from the ground up.

Dr. Anne Leavitt

The Watch: What do you love most about King’s that makes you want to be its president?
Anne Leavitt: King’s commitment to core text, interdisciplinary liberal arts education, a commitment evidenced by Foundation Year Programme, and also by the way it has structured its joint honours programs.
TW: What do you bring to the position that sets you apart from the other candidates?
AL: Twenty-five years of experience in and commitment to core text, interdisciplinary liberal arts education, as well as considerable academic administrative and leadership experience.
TW: Do you have any ties to Halifax, Nova Scotia, or the East Coast that made you interested in this position?
AL: My family can trace its presence in the province back to the 1600s. A move to King’s would represent a kind of homecoming for me – both to an institution defined by the kind of academic mission which drew me into my academic career in the first place, and to a place that has been my familial home since I can remember.

Desserud, the director of Urban and Community Studies Institute at University of New Brunswick-Saint John (UNBSJ), is “emotionally involved” in defending liberal arts education, as he had to prove in 2008 when UNBSJ was facing possible divorce from UNB. As the lead professor in the rally, Desserud saved UNBSJ from becoming a polytechnic college.
The only candidate who used a PowerPoint as part of his lecture, Desserud said he needs “to get the message out” about liberal arts education. Mixing quotes from the likes of Thomas Carlyle and George Orwell with personal anecdotes, Desserud spoke about liberal arts students having to “defend our chosen education all our lives”. Reading, writing, and thinking is integral to all careers, he said, even if Latin is not.

Dr. Donald Desserud

The Watch: What do you love most about King’s that makes you want to be its president?
Donald Desserud: Its dedication to liberal arts education and everything that entails. It’s wonderful to see an institution that is staying true to its values and its core mission.
TW: How will your academic experiences as a student and/or as a professor influence your role as president should you be chosen?
DD: I’ve done a lot of very many different things, everything from being a Don in a residence to working as a PhD student in the library system. I could have a reasonably interesting discussion with every single faculty member.
TW: Do you have any personal opinions about the crisis of rising tuition fees for Nova Scotian students and funding cuts by the government?
DD: I think it’s appalling. I consider it to be incredibly short-sighted. The long-term cost of society is horrendous. If we’re not investing in (our students), we’re not investing in our future, and that makes no sense to me.”

By David J. Shuman

David is the current editor-in-chief of The Watch and writes on student issues and events. Find him on Twitter: @DavidJShuman

2 replies on “Presidents Choice”

Dr. Don Desserud is absolutely the most profound scholar I have come across in my seven years of studies in liberal arts.

I must take issue with Leavitt’s remarks. Despite what she says, there is nothing “constricting” about being a philosopher. To be a philosopher is to be committed to the highest level of intellectual care and precision, and there is plenty of room for exploration within its bounds. But philosophy is nothing without rigor, and as she defines it there is no rigor involved. Instead, the approach she promotes seems calculated to leave students as dilettantes, jacks of all trades who might be able to impress the great unwashed at cocktail parties but have no real depth or skill for all their schooling. Is being a “liberal artist” apt compensation for this?
Mainstream academic philosophy has in the last few decades rid itself of the shackles of historiography in the last few decades, just as the sciences did a century earlier. This makes it possible for modern philosophy programs to train students to _reason_ rather than to reverentially pore over the works of the ancients as though they were works of literature. What has made every great philosopher great has always been the choice of reasoning over idolatry, so students at today’s top schools have a chance to _do_ philosophy rather than study philosophers.
What a shame that King’s has chosen to stay in the dark ages of the discipline.

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