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President Tim Loreman gives installation address

Posted on: May 15, 2017

At Saturday’s convocation, Dr. Tim Loreman was installed as Concordia University of Edmonton’s new president. At the installation dinner following this event he gave the following speech:

Canada’s Preeminent Small University

Chancellor Wachowich, The Honorable Brian Mason, City Counselor Tony Caterina, MP Kerry Diotte, Board Chair Wade, members of our Board of Governors, President Emeritus Krispin, Vice-Presidents, Deans, Distinguished Guests, Our colleagues representing other post-secondary institutions, students, faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends, I want to thank you all again for being here today, as I did earlier this afternoon at convocation. I want to acknowledge that the land on which we gather this evening is Treaty 6 territory and a traditional meeting ground and home for many Indigenous peoples, including Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Métis, and Nakota Sioux Peoples.

I have so many people to thank tonight. So many, indeed, that were I to do so it would represent the entirety of my speech, and would also, quite frankly, be extremely boring. I am grateful to everyone in this room for the role you have played in making Concordia a wonderful institution that I am proud to be president of.

This is an important occasion for Concordia, because we don’t change presidents very often. Such change is an opportunity to reevaluate where we have been, who we are, and where we are headed. For those who don’t know, let me tell you a little bit about Concordia’s past. Concordia was started by Lutheran missionaries back in 1921 as a college geared towards preparing young men for careers in the church. At the time it was located in a temperance hotel closer to downtown, which seems to me like an odd choice given some of the Lutherans I know. The first building on our current campus was finished in 1926 on land apparently purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company. That building is Schwermann Hall, named after our first and longest serving president, which still stands today and is easily the nicest of our heritage buildings. That original purchase also included mineral rights so that nobody could dig a coal mine underneath our campus. This revelation has left me hoping for gold, oil, or a diamond find so that we can provide a premium service to our students.

Concordia has a rich history. Students went off to fight and die in wars, the institution endured buildings burning down, there were times when every second light bulb was removed because the place was going broke, there were months when faculty and staff did not get paid, and through all of this graduates went on to find acclaim in a number of professions. Over the years Concordia grew from being a college, to offering transfer degrees to the U of A, to full degree granting status in the 1980s, to what we are now: a fantastic small university offering a range of liberal arts and professional degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels. We have our first doctoral degree in psychology planned for launch in 2018, along with a new Master of Education in School Leadership. Since 2015 we are no longer affiliated with Lutheran Church Canada, but we do honour and very much value this heritage. Concordia is now thoroughly inclusive. I am the 8th president in nearly 100 years, and the first who is not Lutheran. That could not have happened even 10 years ago. Our change in favour of being fully inclusive is one of the most profound and necessary in the history of our institution. And yes, that inclusive outlook involves also making Lutheran students, staff, alumni, and faculty feel welcome along with everyone else.

I have my predecessor and friend Gerald Krispin, who is here tonight, to thank for the leadership that resulted in Concordia being poised for such wonderful things today. He established us as Edmonton’s university. He left us with a community that is strong, dedicated, and clever. We are in good shape administratively and financially. We are growing, and have a decent internationalization program. We have a new building and new initiatives underway. The only thing left for me to do is screw it up! I hope that this is not the case.

My job now, as I view it, is to see the initiatives set in motion by Gerald through to their conclusion. Continuity is important. But as important as continuity is, it is not enough. I must also set my own vision in motion as we complete our current tasks, and I must guide the institution and work collaboratively with our Board and all of our stakeholder groups to accomplish ever-greater things for Concordia. I will lead from the front, and that means articulating where I think we should be headed, and then being willing to adapt that vision as we move forward.

As I said this afternoon at convocation, and many times up to now, without underselling the magnificent work of the other post-secondary institutions here in the city my ambition is for Concordia University of Edmonton to become Canada’s preeminent small university. It is to that ambition that I want to now turn.

When I say that I want CUE to be Canada’s preeminent small university I sometimes get a puzzled response. What does this mean and why would I say that? Here is my rationale. Concordia is unique. We have amazing strengths and features that give us some advantages. We have to recognize what those strengths and advantages are and play to them. In the words of Shakespeare “To thine own self be true”. That might be a somewhat cliché statement to throw out in a speech, because I think it is used in many high school prom night speeches and similar, but I believe that in our case it is true. Concordia is probably never going to be, and neither should she be, a comprehensive research institution with programs in areas such as medicine and engineering, a so-called CARI university. We don’t want to be that. That is not who we are. Further, there is an excellent institution in Edmonton just across the river that serves that function exceedingly well. Edmonton does not need two. What is great and perhaps unique about the post-secondary sector in Edmonton is that each institution is distinctive, each institution serves different students well, and together as a group we do it all. So what I want for Concordia is for us to look at who we are now in 2017 (without wistfully harkening back to the past), look at what we do well, and come to a conclusion about how we can measure our success on our terms, and how we can grow and improve. I believe that it is a worthy objective for us to try and become Canada’s preeminent small university.

When I use that term, Canada’s preeminent small university, people want specifics right away. They want to know two things. First, how do I define small? Second, what do I mean by preeminent and how would we measure that? I have a relatively easy time answering the first question. It seems to me that, as I look across Canada, there are institutions that hover somewhere around 4000 students or less, and those that do not. So when I say small I think I mean that Concordia University of Edmonton is most reasonably placed in a category of institutions of up to about 4000 students. Seems a fairly straightforward way of looking at it, and nobody seems particularly put off by this view.

When it comes to what I mean by preeminent and how we would measure that the answer is not so easy. It might seem like a convenient excuse, but really it is not entirely for me to define what being preeminent means for Concordia. I took the term ‘preeminent’ from a book by my friend Peter MacKinnon on university leadership and public policy. It seemed to fit my ambitions for Concordia perfectly. At a Town Hall meeting in February I said that at times ‘preeminent’ can be switched out with terms such as ‘leading’, or ‘foremost’ (as in Canada’s leading small university or Canada’s foremost small university). But this does not really get to what I mean. I said then that preeminent means highly distinguished or outstanding. I like that nuance because we can be preeminent without demeaning the work of other institutions, and because other institutions may also be if they so choose. It is about us rather than about others. I’m interested in CUE being a high-quality university, rather than engaging in something as vacuous, childish, and unproductive as bickering, competing for the sake of it, or worrying about other universities who are higher than us on a made-up league table.

Being preeminent in the Canadian and Albertan context has, in my view, a number of important features. Luckily for me Concordia’s Mission and Vision statement contain exactly the foundation of what we need to demonstrate preeminence. Our institutional vision statement, for example, is that “Concordia University of Edmonton will be recognized nationally and internationally for its graduates’ knowledge, skill, integrity, and wisdom.” Perfect. To that I would add that Concordia should provide the sort of high-quality education that you can’t get anywhere else. It must be distinctive. Students must always come first. We must also maintain and expand our inclusive view. We must defend research, scholarship, and academic freedom. We must attend to our teaching. We must better support Indigenous learning. We must continue with and enhance our vibrant international initiatives. We will need more buildings. All of this must be accomplished within the boundaries of our very finite and limited budget, and so we must do it all with the utmost efficiency. There are any number of things we must do, and we must do them together. All of Concordia needs to pull as one in order to accomplish preeminence. And if we are going to pull as one we had better understand and support a common purpose and direction. The only way to do that is to plan carefully, and for everyone to have a say in that plan. However that plan ends up looking, it must be straightforward and understood by everyone.

With that in mind, I am announcing tonight that Concordia will, starting this summer, embark on the creation of a new 5-year Academic Plan aimed at moving us towards being Canada’s preeminent small university. The process will be consultative. The end result will be straightforward, broadly disseminated, and widely understood. We must all play a role. The plan may not end up being a traditional one. We will look at creative planning models. Around that Academic Plan we will then build a broader institutional plan to help us to reach our academic objectives. I want this to be accomplished over the next year or so.

As we move down this road we might ask what is the point in becoming Canada’s preeminent small university? Is it just so that we can brag about our good reputation and throw around a catch phrase? No. The point is our students. In striving to live up to this moniker I believe that we will improve in so many ways. We have students in this room who have had great opportunities and who have done many amazing things during their time here. Not only have they become experts in their discipline area, but they have engaged in activities such as trips to present at conferences in Germany, speaking at the same historic podium as world leaders in the UN General Assembly Hall in New York, engagement with world famous scholars such as Robert Kolb on our campus, and even fun student-driven events with their peers that have enhanced the quality of their lives. However, we can do better. We can be more student-centered. We can be better engaged in scholarship, our teaching can be enhanced, and our connection to the community and world improved. This is not to say that we are not already strong in these areas, but rather that a focus on a lofty and aspirational goal such as becoming Canada’s preeminent small university can inspire us to improve in ways we never thought possible.

And that’s what I see in Concordia University of Edmonton. Possibility. We need to work together and realize this possibility. Over the course of my presidency I look forward to working with everyone in this room to do just that. Thank you.