My first (almost) 100 days

Oct 6 2017


Finding connections and building bridges

Students, faculty and staff gather outside McEwan on Orientation day.

Hi, I’m Deborah Saucier, president of MacEwan University.

Exactly one month ago today, I had the pleasure of welcoming our first-year students to campus. It was one of many opportunities to connect and get to know the people who make up the MacEwan University community during the almost 100 days I’ve been on the job as president.

As a prof, I always made a point of checking in with students a few weeks into class—asking them what they want to see more or less of, and what they would like to keep the same. During my first months at MacEwan, I’ve been doing something similar: asking students, faculty and staff what you love about this place—the things you would be really sad to lose if they suddenly weren’t there. So far, the overwhelming answer is MacEwan’s focus on students. It’s something everyone here truly values.

 

(Almost) 100 days in photos

My first day on campus as president. It was fantastic to meet everyone, including these SAMU execs, on the lawn that sunny July afternoon. Handing out room keys during Residence Move-in Day was a chance to share in the excitement and trepidation of new students and their parents—and to see in action the many people who support our students day and night in their new home away from home.

Profs go to school too. On August 30, almost 300 faculty members attended Faculty Development Day with sessions focused on the many ways building community is tied to teaching. Photo: Steven Csorba September 6 was a different kind of first day of university for me—a first-year president welcoming first-year students to campus. 
I challenged Griff to go head-to-head on this wacky obstacle course at the Downtown Campus Block Party, but the harness didn’t fit him. Shawn Eckford from Athletics was a good sport and stepped up instead. (I’ve made a mental note to wear pants next year.) It was great to see students kicking off a new semester enjoying the outdoor concerts at SAMU’s Fall Fest. The Allard Hall grand opening event allowed us to showcase not only the incredible facility we now have, but also the talents and creativity of our students, faculty and staff who will call it home. This incredible building is a blank canvas, and I can't wait to see what our students and faculty do with it in the years to come. So honoured to take part in Orange Shirt Day on September 29.

I’m also encouraged to see such a positive response when I speak about our institution’s commitment and responsibility to address issues connected to diversity, equity, inclusion and meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

These are some of many big issues we need to face and address together, and providing opportunities for us to share information and have conversations is something we need to do more of. Regular updates, like this one, along with town hall meetings, video updates (read on for information on a new Facebook Live initiative) and regular office hours (coming in the new year) are a few ways I hope we can connect to talk about our challenges, discuss where we are headed as an institution—and celebrate our successes.

On that note, I have to congratulate the many people involved in the recent opening of Allard Hall. I think I speak on behalf of everyone when I express how grateful we are to the donors who made the building possible, and how proud and impressed I was by everything I saw and experienced that day.

We were honoured to have many special guests and performers who shared inspiring words and music that afternoon. I know I wasn’t the only one who had goosebumps during the performance of “Come Together,” composed by music student Sauve MacBean.



 

Deborah Saucier in the morning outside McEwan

 

Edmonton’s downtown university

During the Allard Hall grand opening, Mayor Don Iveson’s commented that “MacEwan isn’t Edmonton’s other university—it’s Edmonton’s downtown university.” It was something that resonated with many of us.

But what does it really mean to be Edmonton’s downtown university? How do we fit within the larger communities that we are part of and that we serve? How do we intersect and interact with the people who live and work in our neighbourhood? Is our campus a bridge or a wall between 104 and 105 Avenues? And if our campus truly is a bridge, what does that mean?

At the heart of it, I believe that education is transformational. Education provides opportunities for our graduates to thrive in the workplace and allows our students to develop their careers. As part of the university experience, we foster citizen leaders and further contribute to the community. But for MacEwan to transform the lives of our students, we will need to have frank discussions about who has access to our university. I am particularly struck by the vision of Arizona State University, which states that it is “measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed."

To ensure access, we will have to truly bridge the realities of many people’s lives. MacEwan is surrounded by neighbourhoods with great differences in median family income, and that exemplify the linguistic and cultural diversity of Edmonton. How we ensure that all students are included and succeed at MacEwan is increasingly important, especially as many people in Edmonton, Alberta and Canada are increasingly feeling that the cost of university education is out of reach. The way in which we contribute to our local communities and ensure that all feel welcome here will define our character as a downtown university.

To my mind, being a downtown university means that we need to discuss the truly hard topics facing Canadians today. It is my hope that over the coming months we will demonstrate that we can have these hard conversations, that we can disagree and that we can still move forward with respect for differing opinions and viewpoints. In all of the work I do, I feel that this is the most critical aspect of a university experience—tolerance. When we combine tolerance with a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in all of our endeavours, we can be a force for transformation and public good.

 

An ariel view of MacEwan along 104 Avenue

Let’s talk about it

This conversation about how we fit into the heart of the city is one we need to continue. On Monday, October 23, please join me on Facebook (Facebook.com/MacEwanUniversity) at 3:30 p.m. where I’m looking forward to answering your questions live.

If there’s something you want to know, send your questions in advance to president@macewan.ca. I’ll do my best to answer as many as I can.

 

 

Update on the fraud incident

I’m sure you have heard about the recent phishing scam that resulted in the transfer of university funds to a bank account set up by online fraudsters.  

While the fraud was, and is, a shock to the university, a concerted effort is underway to recover the funds. Civil action and criminal investigations are ongoing in several jurisdictions—and new avenues of investigation are still being uncovered. Because the situation is still changing, the final financial impact of the fraud is not known. We are, however, optimistic that we will recover a significant portion of the money.

The loss of the funds was a blow for the institution. But we have learned a very hard lesson that will, in the end, make our institution more secure.

I want to emphasize that the university’s financial and IT systems were not compromised by the attack, but the fraud did shine spotlights on two glaring gaps in our organization. The first, the lack of controls in the process of changing client information, was corrected immediately after the fraud was discovered. New levels of approval are in place, which include checks that ensure that an incident of this nature will not happen again.

The second gap, the lack of employee awareness and education about phishing scams, is also being addressed. We will reintroduce our IT security awareness campaign, and we are developing an online IT security awareness course targeted at employees. The university is strongly considering making successful completion of this course a prerequisite for employee access to our information systems.

I want to thank the staff from several units in the university whose rapid and effective actions put us in a solid position to come back from this incident. We have engaged external expertise to assist in conducting an extensive multifaceted investigation into the fraud, and I have struck a task force that will complete a review of the factors that may have led to this incident.

Please let me assure you that we are making every effort to ensure that this fraud will not negatively impact the academic experience of our students, or the business operations at the university.

We very much appreciate your understanding and support as we work through this challenging time.

 

Moving forward

The question “What’s your vision?” has been a popular one over the last three months. While I understand the enthusiasm and interest in having me share a definitive answer, a comprehensive vision isn’t something you have the moment you step into a role like this.

Listening to, meeting with and learning from the people who make up our community needed to be the first step—and one that is ongoing in concert with reflecting, questioning and being curious. One thing I’ve noted is the need to strengthen and increase the transparency of our planning processes, so as we embark on the upcoming strategic planning and budgeting activities, watch for additional town hall meetings and communications.

As those processes continue, know that I’ll be working on and refining my vision—and that it’s something I look forward to sharing with you. 

 

20 quick questions 

 

The final word

Someone recently asked what the biggest difference is between MacEwan and the other post-secondary institutions I’ve worked and studied at over the years. What strikes me most is just how committed and engaged people are here. That’s not to say that people in other places aren’t, but there is something that feels different about this university. I see the people at MacEwan working as a team—as a community—trying to make every single thing about this place better. Our students, faculty and staff are engaged, and that really shows.

It’s been such a pleasure to get to know a bit about you over the past three months, and I look forward to meeting even more members of our MacEwan community every day. If you see me at an event or in the hallway, please make sure to stop and say hello.

Sincerely,  

Deb

President, MacEwan University
@DocSaucier on Twitter

 

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