Perhaps that is one reason why, when he was just steps away from retirement in 2011, he agreed to take on the presidency of St. Thomas More College (STM) at the University of Saskatchewan.
Downey earned his undergraduate degree in history at St. Jerome’s University and master’s and PhD in political science at the University of Western Ontario, before serving 22 years as a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. When approached about STM, he had just completed 12 years as president and vice-chancellor at St. Mary’s College in Calgary, where he played a key role in its evolution into an accredited degree-granting university.
“I was impressed with the University of Saskatchewan and felt the position with STM was a wonderful opportunity to continue to serve in a place of such good standing in the Canadian Catholic college community,” Downey recalled. “Exposure to the dynamic intellectual stimulation of this large, thriving, research-intensive university, while being a member of a more intimate academic community that is equally stimulating in promoting intellectual, personal and, if the student wishes, spiritual development, ensures students are given access to the best of both worlds.”
Seven years in, Downey’s tenure with STM has proven productive in the list of accomplishments. Two major renovations were completed in 2013 and 2017—on either side of the college—resulting in over 27,000 additional square footage of space benefitting students, faculty and administration. A Chair for Catholic Studies (including a lecture series), along with the Basilian Chair in Indigenous Spirituality and Reconciliation, were developed. The college also increased visibility through Downey’s focus on enhanced recruitment and community outreach, positively impacting enrolment.
Last spring, STM’s Board of Governors received news that Downey would be retiring on July 1, 2018, initiating plans to find a successor for the successful leader. In June 2017, the Standing Committee for the Appointment of the President, consisting of a representative of the St. Thomas More College Society and six elected members chosen from key stakeholder groups, began meeting to guide the search process. Executive search firm Caldwell Partners was retained to assist the committee in the process.
“We are looking for an appropriate successor for President Downey, who has provided exceptional leadership at STM,” stated Bev Hanson, vice-chair of the St. Thomas More College Board of Governors and chair of the Standing Committee for the Appointment of the President. “Many local and provincial stakeholders, including all faculty, staff and students, were invited to respond in a confidential format, highlighting key qualities needed for the candidate to succeed in the position of president of St. Thomas More College.”
Shortlisting of candidates and interviews will take place early this year, with the proposed timeline to have the new president for STM named and in place by July 1.
Now looking ahead to retirement, Downey has fond memories about his time at the college.
“I have been privileged to serve at STM and work with committed faculty and a strong administration team,” he said. “In our intimate scholarly community, conversations are possible about the great issues in life. My wife Margaret and I have lived and served in three provinces and have had the wonderful opportunity to view the diversity and complexity of our country and similarly, that of the university communities.
“Retirement will bring continued presence on national boards, keeping an eye on my discipline—political science—and spending time with my family,” he said. “What will I miss most? The constant stimulation and opportunity to interact with young people and talented and interesting colleagues.”
Jacquie Berg is director of communications, marketing and recruitment at St. Thomas More.