"This is a university whose future rests on its great potential to inquire, to inform, to innovate, and to Indigenize and I am very thankful – I am humbled – to be able to play a role in it. And I am thankful to see how many people are here today, which I know means you want to play a role as well."
Incoming President Dr. Peter Stoicheff, July 9, 2015
Thank you Greg, the Board, the selection committee. I’d love to recognize all of the honoured guests here but you have been recognized already. I do want to make particular mention of Premier Wall - I know that your calendar is filled with urgency and that you’re leaving shortly after this. The fact that you are here does speak to the significance of the university in this province. We’re really appreciative that you’re here. Thank you.
Gordon Barnhart: the way I like to put it is, it took the university at least ten long months to decide that it had the confidence to choose me as the next president, and it took ten minutes for them to know they had the confidence to choose you. Thank you, as other speakers have mentioned, for all that you have done and will continue to do in your role. Thank you very, very much.
I am excited and humbled and privileged to be named as the 11th president. I am excited now, but I was as excited when I came here as a new faculty member in 1986, as Greg said, as a member of the English Department. I was born in Ottawa. My father worked in a lab that was run by Gerhard Herzberg and Herzberg used to talk very fondly, I remember as a young boy, about the 13 years that he spent here, and the fact that those 13 years gave him everything that he needed to be able to accomplish all that he did and go on, of course, to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. So I knew about this place, but long before I knew where it was and long before I would ever come here, I met my wife, Kathryn Warden, in Toronto and it turned out she had grown up here. We returned here and raised a family here with Alix and Christopher. They were wonderful years for us, absolutely wonderful, and they were all made possible by the University of Saskatchewan. So we’re really indebted to it, I can tell you. She’s been working here for almost 20 years in Karen Chad’s office and the office of other Vice Presidents of Research and is the Director of Research Profile and has been for several years. My in-laws are here: Les and Shirley Warden from Regina. They have been long-time residents of Saskatoon and Regina.
So I was excited before I even got here in 1986 because of the U of S’s reputation. I knew about political leaders like Diefenbaker, Ramon Hnatyshn, then afterward premiers Romanow and Calvert and, of course, Premier Wall. I knew about physicists like not only Herzberg, but Henry Taube who also won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I knew about writers like Sharon Butala, Guy Vanderhaeghe and social scientists like Hilda Neatby, Mabel Timlin, and Norman Ward. Medical researchers like Sylvia Fedoruk and Harold Johns. Aboriginal leaders like Freda Ahenekew and more recently, Blaine Favel, Chief of the FSIN when he was 29. And I knew that I wanted to be part of that university.
It’s a message, actually, that I like to offer students: that when you’re here you’re not just getting your degree, you’re actually following your passion. In the end, the measure of a civilization is not its ability to consume, it’s the amount of compassion it can show, and universities have a significant role in making our collective future a compassionate and productive one.
I’m also excited because the world, this country, this province, this city -- is in the midst of change. Many people would argue that the change is the fastest and most profound that history has yet witnessed. We can be part of that change. This university can help shape that change. To help the province achieve its aspirations as stated in its growth plan and its immigration policies and its innovation agenda; this university can be a part of the city’s role as a cultural capital of Canada, as all great cities rely on the existence of a great university in their midst.
I’m excited because it’s now our opportunity – it is our time to do so – in collaboration in key areas with the other post-secondary institutions in this province and with the many other stakeholders whose partnerships with us are key to our success.
We are already - we know this – we are already among the top 15 universities in this country - that group of Canada’s research-intensive, medical doctoral institutions – we know that we have the missions of research, scholarly and artistic work, teaching and community outreach, in the context of our sense of place in this city, in this province, in this country and, in select signature areas, the world. We know that we have the talent and the expertise, for instance, to solve global challenges, particularly around food and water security, infectious disease, and the environment.
But to me the important thing is to ask: why is it important to think of ourselves in these terms? What is behind these measurements of greatness? And to me, it is to be an agent of positive change, building on the exponential power of the university community of over 150,000 alumni and countless supporters and stakeholders, like all of you here, who expect nothing less than that we continue to take our well-earned place among the very best.
I would argue that universities are needed now more than ever – we must recognize the role we can play as the most important catalyst for our scientific and artistic culture – to preserve it, and build it through research, scholarly and artistic work, to give students the experience of it so that they can go out and create it themselves – to see ourselves as a cultural institution that will bring together the immeasurable forces of science, the arts, the humanities, the technology, the professions – as a dedicated servant to a democratic society and a responsible critic of it.
In the end, what Herzberg and Diefenbaker and Timlin and Neatby, what they all did was bring knowledge and action that energized us, and in the process enhanced social justice for a civil society; by being part of the University of Saskatchewan they called attention to the real purpose of a great university such as ours.
I want to add this, because it’s really important to me and it’s going to be really important for this university: that we cannot deem our role in the fostering of a civil society a success unless we become, demonstrably, and with commitment, the best place we can possibly be for the Aboriginal people of this province and this country. None of the rest of it matters, at this point in our nation’s history, if we do not achieve this. The education gap is too great, the United Nations human development index gap is too great – Canada is something like 6th on that index; Canada’s Aboriginal people are worse than 70th. The moral imperative is too strong, for us not to play our part
And I think of it this way: if not us as a university leading the way, then who? And if not now, in the wake of the recent TRC recommendations, then when? If not us, who? If not now, when?
This is a university whose future rests on its great potential to inquire, to inform, to innovate, and to Indigenize – to inquire, to inform, to innovate and to Indigenize – and I am very thankful – I am humbled – to be able to play a role in it. And I am thankful to see how many people are here today, which I know means you want to play a role as well.
Thank you for being here, for sharing this eventful moment in our collective history. Thank you very, very much.