Others paying attention to U of S renewal – MacKinnon
There is a palpable momentum building at the University of Saskatchewan as the institution’s efforts at renewal begin to draw attention from governments, the media and even prospective students.
In his annual address to the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce March 1, President Peter MacKinnon said the institution is on track to fulfill the prediction of the University’s first president, Walter Murray, who said the U of S would hold “an honoured place among the best. That’s the standard by which we shall measure our progress, and we shall be successful.”
MacKinnon outlined the changes seen at the University since it adopted its Integrated Plan in 2002. Prior to that, “our performance as a medical-doctoral institution was not what it should have been. Our research performance required serious remedial action…(and) great unevenness characterized our efforts, with some units excelling, other balancing various commitments reasonably well, and still others lagging on several fronts.”
A campus-wide commitment to three guiding principles – international standards, preeminence, and a strong sense of place – has turned all that around, he said.
Among the most significant change has been “much needed investment in our students.” The recruitment and retention of diverse and talented students is “a highly competitive enterprise” but one that is as essential to the institution’s future as quality teaching and research, he said. To that end, increased scholarship support has produced a significant increase in the number of graduate students.
Maintaining the commitment to improving all areas of the operation will be critical as the University faces a substantial turnover in its aging workforce. “We need to be sure that the next generation that will lead this University ‘gets it’.” MacKinnon said the U of S expects to hire up to 150 new faculty due to retirement and a projected 130-140 more due to attrition.
“This is no small task, and it’s the single most important task we will embark on.”
Speaking in a banquet room at the Saskatoon Inn that was full despite a raging snowstorm, the President said 28 Canada Research Chairs and two faculty members who recently received 3M teaching fellowships have helped build academic momentum, as have increases in PhD registration and research funding.
But he assured the crowd “we are not doing the things we are doing…at the expense of our roots. We have a deep commitment to our history in this province…(and) we continue to keep our commitment to the community through existing music, theatre, sports and outreach programs.” The institution’s new model for outreach and engagement is intended, he said, “to encourage University participation in areas of community interest where we have much to contribute.”
During questions after the speech, one person asked MacKinnon how the University sells Saskatoon as a place to live when recruiting faculty. He responded by saying the city sells very well but people “are sometimes too modest about Saskatoon. There is a sense things are happening here. This city can be a competitive advantage, and we have to behave like it’s a competitive advantage.”