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Ask the President: An introductory Q & A with Ed McCauley

By Matty Hume, February 11 2019 —

The Gauntlet sat down with the University of Calgary’s new president and vice-chancellor, Ed McCauley, for an introductory Q&A session. But we wanted you to ask the questions. McCauley, who has served as the university’s vice-president research since 2011, was unanimously recommended as a replacement for Elizabeth Cannon on Nov. 8, 2018 by the Presidential Steering Committee.

Questions that were provided by U of C students include name, faculty and year of study.

Thank you for taking this opportunity to show you’re just as invested in the future of this university as our new president.

The Gauntlet: It obviously takes a lot to become the president of a post-secondary institution. Give me a rundown of your career and how you got here.

Ed McCauley: It is a long road. It’s an interesting road because one of the benefits of being an academic is that you get to travel the world through your position. To be able to live in different regions of the world, experience cultures, gather ideas from other people. In academia, it’s very, very competitive but it’s also extremely collaborative. You build these networks around the world, which are people you can always call upon. We very often exchange students, post-docs and [would] visit with others to really exchange information. That’s the thing about this global exchange, it’s just so important if you’re going to advance in particular areas.

I was very fortunate that when I finished my PhD at McGill I moved to California to do my post-doctoral fellowship there. I had a position in California after my post-doc. And Canada was launching a program to, in essence, repatriate scholars that had positions outside of the country. So I came to Calgary in 1985 to join the university to start a new program area and the original position was funded by the natural science and engineering research fund of Canada as what they call a university research fellow. And the University of Calgary was very successful in that program in recruiting some faculty who had some positions elsewhere to new positions and open up more programs.

The reason why I chose Calgary — because in this program you could actually choose which university to take up position they were sponsoring — [was because] Calgary was bold, it was dynamic, the Faculty of Science was a very interesting place to be, very strong professors and things like that. It was a place where I really wanted to start my career. The advantage of being here and in Canada is that there’s tremendous support for our academics, our students, our faculty and postdoctoral scholars. So, I built my career and raised my family here in Calgary. It grew amazingly over that time period and it was great to be a part of that growth. It was great to be a part of the ability to shape through being assistant professor, associate professor and professor.

One of the things that sets this university apart is despite the fact that we’ve grown, despite the fact that we’ve increased in size and breadth in terms of our campuses, this university has an incredible ability to enable collaboration.

When I was building programs here, working in environmental science, working with colleagues to create new research centres and so on, even though I was in biological sciences, I could instantly reach out to law, economics, social sciences, to engineering and gather some of the best academics in the university to come together to work on some important issues. It’s the openness and collaboration which I think is really, really important.

Gauntlet: Apart from the career, tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of outside of academia?

McCauley: My passions are music, guitar. I really enjoy travelling the world. Travelling the world not just to visit but actually to live in different areas. Again, that’s one of the benefits of being an academe. I’ve held visiting professorships and chairs in France, Germany, Norway, the U.K., the U.S. and Sweden. But during those times, I actually moved with my family from Calgary to live in those environments for extended periods of time, to meet local people, to gain information, to gain features of their culture and to gain their perspectives. I realize that’s a Europe-North America thing, but actually staying there and making new friends which is really, really important.

Nebil Nurhussein, third-year Faculty of Arts: In your opinion, what makes a good leader?

McCauley: Hey, that’s a really good question. Could I ask [them] to answer that question for me and let me know?

I think what’s important in the leadership positions, and we have them, is this notion of listening carefully. A leader here at the university is listening carefully to our students, our staff, our faculty, our postdocs, our alumni. In other words, we are one very large family. I think for me it’s a privilege to be the president of the university, but one of my major jobs is listening and taking in that information and putting it in the context of influences that our university experiences on a municipal level, provincial level, federal level and internationally. And then, helping chart a course forward for the university that reflects the values of the University of Calgary, which are dynamism, excellence and collaboration.

Omer Mansoor, fourth-year Faculty of Science: What’s one thing you hope every student takes away with them when they graduate?

McCauley: I hope that every student develops a real emphasis on curiosity. Students have this wonderful time where you can ask great questions and what we want to try to do at the University of Calgary is to ensure that we present a learning environment for you to gain the expertise that could potential answer some of the questions, or even as importantly, generate more questions for you. It’s this desire by our students to discover, to create and innovate. If they go away, those are the three things I’d like them to do.

Claire Hickey, sixth-year Faculty of Arts: In the past several years there has been criticism of the perceived inequity between the funding and resources provided to the Schulich School of Engineering and the Haskayne Business School in comparison to other faculties, such as the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Science. How do you plan on addressing this inequity to create a more holistic and equitable education experience for all University of Calgary students?

McCauley: Interesting. I mean, the Faculties and Science and the Faculties of Arts are some of our largest faculties. And funding for faculties tends to be proportionate — at least the funding that’s available from the university — to the size of the faculties. One of the things that I’ve been encouraging the Faculty of Arts in particular is to marshal their resources so that we can leverage them to actually gain more external funds to support the student experience. In the Faculty of Arts, where it is really about if students and the faculty want to work on a particular program, the university typically evaluates these things very carefully. I know that when I was vice-president of research and providing funds for faculty to sponsor conferences, to travel to workshops and so on, that actually a disproportionate amount of funds went to the Faculty of Arts.

I respect completely all the different forms of scholarship that exist at the University of Calgary. In some areas, that scholarship tends to be more solitary, it tends to be more individual-driven and in other areas it tends to be more collaborative, group-focused, things like that. All are great as long as they are producing impactful scholarship for the University of Calgary.

Maximillian Hum, fourth-year Haskayne School of Business: As the university focuses on becoming a better research institution, what steps will you take to ensure that the voice and well-being of students also increases?

McCauley: So, a couple of things there. In the welcome speech that I just gave [for my  introduction to the university on Jan. 27], I talked about the fact that great research universities inspire our students to discover, create and to innovate. And we create the environment to enable them to do that. The thing I emphasized in my comments earlier today, is at a great research university, there is no trade-off between research and teaching. When our students walk on campus, they should be thinking about discovering new things about themselves, new ideas about the world around them, evaluating critically and thinking about how they can use that knowledge to benefit society and themselves.

Mateusz Arya Salmassi, second-year Faculty of Arts: [Is there going to be] a concrete and transparent plan to substantially lower tuition fees for both domestic and international students?

McCauley: First of all, we really, really appreciate the great work that’s been done by our students and the university for discussing these ideas with the provincial government. We really appreciate the stable funding that the provincial government has provided because that enables the university to work with students to ensure a quality education experience, call it a learning environment experience. The stable, predictable funding as well as the backfill, which is really, really important in order to maintain the quality of our programs is really, really appreciated. We recognize and acknowledge the emphasis of the current government on accessibility, and we are working really, really closely with students, to ensure Bill 19 is implemented from our perspective. And you know our student works and student leaders are working really collaborative with us in terms of consultations around tuition and putting things forward to the government.

Zachary Friesen, fourth-year Haskayne School of Business: What is your favourite thing about the U of C?

McCauley: My favourite thing about the University of Calgary is at this university we are one university family. We support one another, we care for one another and when I walk on campus every day I have a feeling that I’m inspired to actually advance my field, advance the University of Calgary’s position, advance the environment for students and our faculty. One thing, and I’m a biologist, is that everything is very, very special at the University of Calgary [because of] the support from our community. Our community just rallies around us. If we aren’t delivering on excellence, whether it be the Dinos, whether it be changing medical protocols to improve the health and well being of people in society, whether it be trying to understand the energy system so we can do things, as long as we are advancing the knowledge piece objectively and critically our community is behind us 100 per cent.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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