Office of the President
Presidential Installation Speech • Thursday, October 25, 2007
Dr. Max Blouw was installed as Wilfrid Laurier University’s new president on Thursday, October 25, 2007. What follows is his address to the large group of faculty, staff, and students, as well as academic, government, community and business leaders who were in attendance.
Thank you Chancellor Rae.
• Mr. Chancellor,
• Madam Chair and Members of the Board of Governors,
• Members of the University Senate,
• Distinguished guests who represent us in Municipal, Regional, Provincial and Federal governments,
• Former Presidents Rosehart and Marsden,
• My faculty colleagues,
• Members of staff, students and alumni,
• and my dear friends and family:
This is probably the first installation ceremony that many of you will have attended. So, I will begin with a double-barrel question.
What is an installation, and why are we doing one?
The word “installation” conjures up notions of something you might do with a piece of plumbing, or a piece of software. Clearly, and thankfully, we aren’t here for either of those purposes.
Previous experience told me that presidential installations are marked with the medieval costumes that are our academic regalia, and with formal processions, music, speeches, festivity, and food and drink.
Indeed, our purpose today is to formalize and celebrate the relationship between an institution and its new leader.
Wilfrid Laurier University is at one of those recurring milestones that signal institutional progress and renewal.
As university milestones go, it is the regular convocation of our graduates – such as the convocations that will occur tomorrow – that are the most significant.
Presidential installations are important, but they are more irregular in the cycle of institutional change, and under good conditions for Presidents they are much less frequent.
Of course, the significance of this day for me and my family is profound. This ceremony formally marks the very great privilege and honour that has been entrusted to me as leader of what truly is a remarkable university.
I hereby pledge to uphold that trust, to serve Wilfrid Laurier University with the best of my intellect, with passion, with all my strength, and with all my heart. I look forward to this challenge with eagerness and with humility.
Unlike Drs. Rosehart and Marsden, my two immediate predecessors, I am not inclined to serve as President of more than one university. This is it, the one and only, and I am delighted.
I am equally delighted to be sharing this day with all of you.
It is said that we are nothing without love, and I believe it to be true. I want to take a moment to extend a warm welcome and special thanks to some of the people who have given me the love of family and of friendship for many years.
I am one of seven children as well as being the seventh President of the university. And Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the seventh Prime Minister of Canada. Lucky 7! I hope that this is a good omen.
Five of my six siblings are with us in the audience.
In reverse sequence of age, Carla came from Victoria, Kay from distant Mississauga, and Tom, Andreis and Rick are here from Winnipeg.
Our brother Derek is the only one missing but he has a good excuse – he lives in Australia. He, and my mother who lives in Winnipeg and can no longer travel, have asked for and will receive video recordings of these proceedings.
Albert Schweitzer observed that, “In everyone’s life at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the human spirit.”
For me the person who has most often been there to rekindle my spirit is my wife Lynn. Thank you for your love and for giving up comfort, friends and your career, several times over, to support me in following my hopes and dreams.
And I feel more than blessed that our son Carl is here from the Northwest Territories and that Peter has come back specially from his travels in Europe to be with us! It is with pride that I stand before you both.
My sister-in-law Patti has travelled from Paris, France, my brother-in-law John from Winnipeg, and it is wonderful that my mother-in-law Terri is here from Kelowna. Ed and Grace Morrice have come from Prince George. I can’t tell you how much it means to both Lynn and me that you are all here today. Thank you.
Many friends have come from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, the prairies and BC to be with us. What great friends you are!
The mentorship and friendship of Charles Jago and his wife Mary, neither of whom, unfortunately, can be with us today, have been a key source of support and inspiration in my career.
Charles Jago and George Pedersen - who is with us - are the ones who made me realize that the role of university President can be more than the demanding, daunting and insurmountable challenge that it at first seems to be – it can be wonderfully creative, deeply rewarding, and highly stimulating.
I hope for all those outcomes in my time here at Laurier.
I mentioned at the outset that the academic robes we are wearing are like medieval costume, and indeed, that is their origin. Universities have been among the most enduring institutions in the world, and that age and very long tradition is reflected in these garments.
For example, the University of Nanjing in China was founded around 258 BC. It was not formally chartered or called a university until 1888, but it offered education without giving formal credentials for more than 2000 years before that.
The medieval robes we wear come from Europe, however. As is so often the case in academic circles there remains some debate, but it is now more or less agreed that the University of Bologna in Italy is the first institution to have been set up explicitly for formal courses of education that led to the awarding of degrees – parchments in those days.
In fact the students, those who had a burning desire to learn, recruited teachers to form the University of Bologna. The reverse only happened later when the instructors became employees and began to recruit students in order to secure their own livelihoods.
There is an important point here. The fact that knowledge-hungry students recruited their tutors underscores the consuming need that exists in human beings to learn, to absorb information, to manage that information, and then to apply it to their lives.
Rudyard Kipling, in a children’s tale entitled “The Elephant’s Child”, illustrates this deeply engrained drive by painting a verbal picture of a young elephant who defies all punishments and setbacks to satisfy his “satiable curiosity”. If you ever have a chance to hear the recorded version of this delightful tale featuring Jack Nicholson, I highly recommend it.
Given this fundamental human hunger to learn it is not surprising that universities have endured with relatively little change for much longer than nearly any other social institution.
Why does this amazing drive to learn exist?
I think that we see the answer every day in this wonderfully innovative region in which we live.
People who live in this vibrant and exciting part of Canada are not satisfied with the status quo.
They are not passively accepting. They certainly do not live in denial of an ever-changing and challenging world.
Instead, while maintaining a steadfast and strong social and cultural fabric, they have reinvented their economy many times throughout the past couple of centuries.
Instead of being left behind by change, these communities have repeatedly seized a new future.
Indeed it might be accurate to say that this region is now significantly creating the future, with imagination, with resolve, and with amazing levels of cooperation among governments, industry, and other parties, including our universities and our colleges.
Education has been vital to this accelerating innovation. Education liberates. It empowers.
Education facilitates the analysis of complex phenomena. It fosters critical thinking about big and seemingly intractable questions.
Education encourages us to see the world in ways that it has not been seen before. It is the root of innovation, and it is at the root of social, cultural and economic prosperity.
We see that every day around us here in Canada’s Technology Triangle.
Those of us who work at universities are privileged. We can revel daily in the discourse and excitement of a wonderfully exuberant intellectual environment.
Universities also act as conduits through which the richest ideas and talent in the world come to our communities. They are a window to the world.
And indeed, they are often also a door through which the best and brightest in the world come and go to teach us, to learn from us, and to enrich us with their presence.
In an era when ideologically based intolerance and terrorism are commonplace, when we have war in Afghanistan and Iraq, starvation and genocide in parts of Africa, when some of our own Aboriginal peoples live in conditions that are more like the third world than like the rest of our society, education is more important than ever.
It is through education that the human condition steadily improves. Education offers hope. It is the route to freedom, and to tolerance.
Universities are institutions where diverse ideas, beliefs and perspectives are welcomed, where they are debated, where they add value to other ideas and perspectives. Differences are cherished.
And among universities Wilfrid Laurier is a gem. It is home to all these wonderful and good things that I have just mentioned. But it is more.
Students who come to Laurier have a wonderful environment in which to learn, to grow, to explore new ideas, to form friendships, to fall in love, to engage in volunteerism and community service, to engage in athletic competition, all in an intimate and highly supportive environment that emphasizes community and belonging.
I feel that the student experience at Laurier is second to none, anywhere.
The spirit that enlivens campus when students arrive in September is truly remarkable. I have never in my years at various universities in Canada enjoyed the ebullient good nature, the energy, the mutual support and the sheer engagement that characterizes Laurier.
Music is in the air at Laurier. I attended the weekly noon hour concert in Aird Hall on Tuesday and enjoyed wonderful locally composed music with at least a hundred members of the Kitchener Waterloo community.
If music is in the air, so are footballs, baseballs, hockey pucks, lacrosse balls, cheerleaders, and gymnasts. The place is alive, vibrant, … abuzz with energy, talent, and passion.
The university has grown dramatically over the past decade from just over 5,000 students to now well over 15,000. It has become a multi-campus university with recently added buildings in Kitchener and Brantford, and downtown offices and classrooms in Toronto.
Some have questioned the rapidity of growth out of concern that the wonderful attributes of a small and intimate campus might be diminished. My impression is that Laurier, in all its new parts, has retained its vibrancy and intimacy. Recent student surveys reinforce this conclusion.
I also believe that new opportunities are possible with increased critical mass and scope of operations.
That said, we must cherish and protect the values of the past. In fact we need to think carefully about - and articulate clearly - what has made Laurier so special, to so many people, over the decades. We must not only preserve our legacy, we must try to improve on it.
The university we know today arose through serial reinvention, much like the economy of this region, as I described earlier.
A decision was reached in 1910 by the Canada Synod and the Synod of Central Canada of the Lutheran Church to establish a Lutheran Seminary. This decision resulted in the opening in 1911 of the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada on the site of the current university.
In 1914 the Waterloo College School was established. It delivered courses to the senior matriculation level to promote pre-theological education.
Waterloo College evolved from the College School in 1924. And very quickly, in 1925, a formal affiliation was established with the University of Western Ontario to award degrees.
This relationship lasted until 1960 when the seminary received an independent charter and established itself under the name of the Waterloo Lutheran University.
The institution we know today as Wilfrid Laurier University was established on the first of November, 1973, by an act of the provincial legislature, converting to public and secular status.
But the long-standing connection to the Lutheran church was not lost. Laurier today continues a strong and special relationship with the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. We continue to share academic programming and faculty appointments as well as a contiguous physical campus.
Laurier will be celebrating its 100th birthday in 2011. What a party that will be!
I believe that the growth of Laurier was essential in a context where all of the other universities in Ontario were growing very rapidly. Certainly the double cohort that resulted from the elimination of Grade 13 in 2003 created pressures for all universities to provide high quality education to a great many students.
In fact, Laurier grew more quickly than the other universities in the system while maintaining very high academic standards and an outstanding student experience.
Rapid growth and the multi-campus diversification of Laurier have also prompted questions about future direction.
To address those questions I have embarked quickly with the endorsement of the Board of Governors and the intensive engagement of Senate, on a process to establish a longer-term vision for Laurier.
What should the university be like in 2030 or in 2040?
How can the university best respond to the powerful demand in this region for access to education and to the products of research and scholarship while at the same time maintaining the qualities that have distinguished it over the decades?
What values should guide Laurier as it makes decisions about whether, and where, to deliver additional educational and research opportunities?
What principles shall we adhere to as we seek to reconcile the many conflicting demands for our energy and our resources?
As President it is my responsibility to guide the university as it establishes a vision for the future, and as it develops clear statements of the values and the principles that we will call on as we make the day-by-day decisions that will take us toward our vision.
I look forward to intensive discussion and consultation over the coming months, both inside and outside the university, with a target of late 2008 to provide recommendations to the Board of Governors.
It is also my responsibility to mobilize existing resources with efficiency, and to seek new ones, to enable us to achieve our vision.
This will require ongoing imagination and hard work in an environment where public funds are increasingly difficult to secure for even the most pressing of public needs.
Leadership further involves encouraging the aspirations and the ambitions of the university to be at the highest possible level.
In order to produce the best possible graduates from our educational programs, and the best possible research results, it will be important to keep excellence at the top of mind – to aspire to the highest standards of quality in all that we do, every day.
I am convinced that if we adhere to such ideals we will be better positioned to withstand the many forces that will buffet the university over the coming decades.
I am also convinced that institutions work well when there exists an environment of respect for all, in which each person is encouraged to achieve her or his greatest potential. I will work hard to create a supportive and ambitious environment in which excellence is recognized, embraced, and rewarded at all levels.
If I were to summarize the challenge of a modern university President or indeed, the challenge of the Vice Presidents, Deans, Chairs, Managers, Directors and others in leading positions, it is this: to create environments within the university, and through partnerships with others outside the university, in which the highest quality of teaching, thinking, action, and aspiration is both supported and expected.
I look forward to working closely with my faculty colleagues, and with staff, alumni and our community supporters and partners, to meet this challenge; to creating an outstanding environment at Laurier for excellence.
I also look forward to working with colleagues at the University of Waterloo, Nippissing University, Conestoga College and Mohawk College among others to reinforce our current partnerships and to explore further how our institutions, by working together, can create a whole that is much greater than the sum of the parts.
Through this we will together help those with ‘satiable curiosity’ to excel, to contribute to the betterment of the human condition, and to advance our collective prosperity.
Thank you all for sharing this very special day with me and my family.