“I didn’t take pandemic training in my business degrees, so this is new to everyone and we are all adjusting to the new normal,” said Fowler, vice-president of finance and resources at the University of Saskatchewan (USask). “This crisis is by far one of the most significant situations facing the university in its history and definitely in this generation. Our priorities are the health and wellness of our community, and I expect this will forever fundamentally change the university.”
A member of USask’s senior leadership team, Fowler has been a central figure in planning campus coronavirus pandemic priorities and is encouraged by the commitment of faculty and staff working from home, in support of students who had to finish classes and final exams online after USask buildings closed.
“We have a really strong leadership team, from the vice-presidents, associate vice-presidents and deans, to the provost and vice-provosts, and we have a great leader in President Peter Stoicheff who has really helped us through this crisis,” said Fowler. “I have a great team (finance and resources leaders Janelle Hutchinson, Cheryl Carver, Wade Epp, and Shari Baraniuk) and we approach problems openly and discuss them and are capable of making difficult decisions. I have confidence that we are making the right decisions for the university.”
For 25 years, Fowler has done just that, working for the university that has become his second home. Introduced to USask at an early age, Fowler came to campus for everything from engineering open houses to swimming lessons and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1988 and Master of Business Administration in 1992. Fowler was the second of four children (two sisters, two brothers) who were encouraged by their mother to get a good education and all went on to graduate from USask.
“I grew up in Saskatoon and the university was a major part of my life growing up as a place for learning and activities, so I knew a bit about the impact of the university from an early age,” said Fowler, who met his wife Cindy at a social gathering hosted by a member of the Saskatoon Group Homes board that he was serving on. They will celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary this summer.
Fowler worked in the private sector before returning to campus in 1994 as controller at St. Thomas More College, and points to former STM President Dr. John Thompson (PhD) as one of his mentors. After helping to improve STM’s financial position, Fowler become director of operations in the College of Nursing in 2006 and director of consumer services in 2007, leading a transition in food services and the addition of 1,100 new student residence beds. He accepted the vice-president position in 2013 and led a major reorganization to improve service to the university.
Like the majority of USask employees, Fowler has had to adjust to working from home, a challenge on his acreage outside of the city where he shares online access with his three children all attending USask.
“They have all been incredibly busy during this period, finishing classes and exams online,” said Fowler. “It has been good in some ways that I am at home and see them a little more, but we were carpooling before quite a bit, anyways. One thing I am trying to make sure is that I am not interfering with their work, so I have been using cell service as much as I can, rather than using bandwidth because they are always working online.”
Fowler and his wife, sons Matthew (computer science and English) and Jordan (civil engineering) and daughter Brooke (agriculture and bioresources) are making the best of the situation, playing cards in the evening and taking long walks with their three dogs. Interestingly, the Fowlers have three children, three horses, three cats and three dogs, including Charlie, who Fowler point outs “actually runs the acreage.”
Family comes first for Fowler, who enjoys golfing, the occasional Boston Bruins game, spending time in his garden and woodwork shop on his acreage, and socializing with family and friends, once social distancing rules are relaxed. Fowler is also committed to community, serving on board of directors of the Saskatchewan Regional Economic Development Authority, Canadian Light Source, and Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation, as well as previously volunteering on numerous non-profit boards.
While campus leaders are actively working through the financial impact of the pandemic and expect it to be significant, Fowler is heartened by the commitment of staff and dedication of health-care workers in the community during this challenging time. For Fowler and all senior leaders, the health and well-being of students, faculty and staff comes first.
“The heroes are the health-care personnel,” he said. “And I would also like to acknowledge our core and critical staff who have to come to campus, and our ICT team for their work in keeping the campus going while most of us are off campus. Everyone at the university has really pulled together.”