On June 28, Grant MacEwan University says goodbye to president Dr. Paul Byrne after nearly 15 years of leadership – a period of unprecedented change for the institution.
Since 1977, when he first walked through the doors of what was then Grant MacEwan Community College, Paul has grown and evolved with the organization. In those early years, his roles at MacEwan included chair of the communications department and director of the Cromdale campus, which was housed in a former Dominion store.
When he left MacEwan in 1989, he was Dean of Business, and had initiated the move of the business school into the former Syncrude headquarters on 107 Street – the beginning of the relocation of MacEwan’s operations to the centre of the city. He left MacEwan for a position as executive vice-president, academic, at Mohawk College in Ontario where he remained until the end of 1996 when he returned to MacEwan, this time as president.
At the time of his return, Edmonton’s post-secondary environment was changing: NAIT was exploring horizons beyond those of a technical institution and, like NorQuest College, was transitioning to a board governance system.
“Setting a strategic plan was key,” Paul explains. “One of the early stages was to identify what we could be rather than just looking at what we are or what we have been.”
As part of the strategy, MacEwan dropped “Community” from its name, because the growth of NAIT and NorQuest meant that the community college label no longer strictly applied only to MacEwan.
Another turning point for the institution was a new learning environment that Paul credits the faculty for creating. This “community inside a community” environment furthered MacEwan’s programming by expanding its degree-transfer options, which allowed students to study for two years at MacEwan before transferring to finish their degree at another school.
To address student needs and other increasingly important issues, MacEwan began offering its own degrees (starting with the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Child and Youth Care in 2004) and adopted a new governance model that included establishing the academic governance council.
And then Paul looked at improving the institution’s physical environment: first doubling the capacity of MacEwan South Campus, then adding a fourth campus by taking on the operation of one of the city’s longest standing educational institutions, Alberta College. New facilities completed the picture: the Student Residence in 2005 and the Robbins Health Learning Centre in 2007.
By September 2009, the institution under Paul’s leadership had received permission from the Government of Alberta to become Grant MacEwan University.
For Paul, every decision was about better positioning MacEwan in the community and giving students the best learning experience. But he’s adamant that he couldn’t have done it alone.
“I’m most proud of how the people at MacEwan serve students very well and at a very high level. That’s what I feel is MacEwan’s greatest accomplishment,” he says.
At convocation ceremonies on July 24, the university announced that one of the main meeting spaces on City Centre Campus would be named the "Dr. Paul J. Byrne Hall". Fittingly, the hall is located in the Robbins Health Learning Centre. The dedication reads:
"You inspire people with a sense of possibilities. Your vision and exemplary leadership shepherded MacEwan and enhanced post-secondary education with Edmonton, Alberta and across Canada."
“On behalf of my family I wish to express our sincere gratitude for the warm and enjoyable retirement events. To staff in the office of the President, to the leadership team, the deans and faculty, to the administrative and support, to the Board of Governors – a big MacEwan hug and thank you.”
“Grant MacEwan University has been and will remain a special part of our lives. I feel both privileged and proud to have been given an opportunity to be part of the team of dedicated women and men at MacEwan who have ensured that students and learning are the priority.”
“The people, the caring, the student friendly and welcoming MacEwan spirit are hallmarks of this fine institution. Together much as been accomplished although in many ways the journey is just beginning as MacEwan plans for a Single Sustainable Campus and expanding its role as an undergraduate university. Continued success to all at MacEwan as you explore new pathways on your sojourn to the future.”
“Thank you for allowing me to play a small role in helping to ‘leave the vineyard better than I found it.’”