Vigorous renewal making a difference
Over the past six years the U of S has pulled out of a “dangerous” downward slide and is renewing itself with vigorous initiatives intended to make it a leader in a number of research areas and competitive in student and faculty recruitment.
In a Feb. 6 town-hall speech, President Peter MacKinnon said there are many signs that the renewal effort is making a difference and the University is on its way to being among the best in the country. But, he cautioned, it’s an ongoing battle that requires continuing hard work.
The trend was looking grim just a few years ago. In the late 1990s, “we had a significant challenge before us,” MacKinnon told a crowd of about 300 in Convocation Hall. “Our reputation was slipping. The trajectory of research grants from the tri-councils was sliding downward, as were our graduate student numbers. Saskatchewan students no longer considered the U of S a preferred choice when selecting a university for their studies, and our profile in the rest of Canada was diminishing.”
The president said this state of affairs did not square with the vision of the University’s founders that it should occupy “an honoured place among the best”, or with early U of S performance that saw it considered one of the best universities in Canada in the 1950s.
By 2000, this led to an “appetite for renewal” on campus, and the answer of its leaders was to launch a two-year collaborative process for campus-wide development of a pair of documents – an overarching U of S Strategic Directions statement followed by a more detailed Integrated Plan designed to achieve those new directions.
“It was crucial to our future as a major Canadian university that we recognize our strengths and our weaknesses, our opportunities and our vulnerabilities, and chart a course for the future than emphasized success.”
MacKinnon reminded his audience that the Strategic Directions called for the U of S to attract outstanding faculty, recruit a diverse and high-quality student body, bolster graduate education, and increase its commitment to research, scholarly and artistic work.
“There is no question that we have made considerable progress in a relatively short period of time.”
MacKinnon said a large number of impressive faculty are coming to the U of S, including its 33 Canada Research Chairs, and the campus research scene is improving. Faculty recruitment and the University’s national reputation have been enhanced by major facilities like the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, the Vaccine & Infectious Disease Organization, and the Toxicology Centre, and “our annual research funding is almost double the annual funding in the ’90s.”
Another positive is the recent increase in graduate student recruitment, with PhD enrolment rising by more than 50 per cent since 2002, and MacKinnon is particularly gratified by “the rapidly increasing numbers of Aboriginal students enrolling in our University and graduating from our University.”
Nevertheless, the University continues to lag behind others for research grants in the social sciences and humanities, and graduate enrolment increases are only half of the average across Canada. But, “we are on the right track – the window of opportunity to capture the promise of the U of S is open.”
Full text and video copy of speech at www.usask.ca/president/speeches