John Milloy, Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities, and John Wilkinson, minister of research and innovation, recently visited U of G in the same week. While taking them on tours of both old and new campus sites and listening to their discussions with faculty, staff and students, I got the distinct impression that they were "getting it."
By this I mean they were starting to understand that there's something about Guelph that sets us apart from other institutions of higher education. Of course, many qualities underpin our uniqueness, ranging from the high level of student engagement in the teaching and learning process to the quality of our faculty and staff to our beautiful and secure campus.
But I want to focus on one particular U of G characteristic that was evident to me both during these ministry visits and on several occasions in recent weeks - a quality that is sometimes overshadowed by more dramatic features but is nevertheless fundamentally important.
I am talking about collegiality. We have it in abundance at Guelph, and it makes us different, effective and enviable. I believe it is the cement that holds universities together. Without it, they would not only lose their soul but would also have no gravitational pull.
Collegiality, a close cousin of good citizenship, is what enables universities to maintain an open atmosphere where freedom, academic and otherwise, is the order of the day. Universities need it as much as they need buildings and government funding, students and professors. It is a central part of the university experience.
Administration is also a vital part of a university community. Without it, a university would cease to function. And administration cannot be performed exclusively by those who have administrative titles such as dean and department chair. Much of the day-to-day routine, in fact, relies on the knowledge, skills and experience of our faculty, students and staff.
For example, a university needs faculty members for a host of other things: updating curricula, sitting on appeals committees, reviewing academic programs, serving on Senate, chairing graduate student defences, etc. We need staff to share their knowledge with others through formal workshops and through involvement on committees and in University initiatives. The list goes on.
By their very nature, universities are free places. Freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom of research are their cornerstones. In such an environment, faculty, staff and students have a great deal of power. They can choose to do a lot of administration or very little. We are fortunate to be part of a university with a history firmly rooted in collegiality, and as such, our staff, faculty and students willingly share in duties that help the University function.
Recently, for example, students, faculty and staff worked together to review Senate's standing committees, setting new standards for decision-making and forming new coalitions. I believe this faculty-led initiative will greatly improve Senate's efficiency, communication and integration.
In addition, faculty are leading an effort to set new policies and standards for the Research Ethics Board and have been working with staff and students to revamp the student awards process to establish best practices for allocating financial support.
Faculty, staff and students have also taken an active collaborative role in the integrated planning process, working together to identify priorities and help guide strategic planning to meet the University's mission now and in the future.
And all three groups worked tirelessly to make recommendations for improving and enhancing the undergraduate learning experience at U of G as part of the University's 21st-Century Curriculum Committee.
Most recently, the entire campus community put their heads together to address the recent concerns with WebAdvisor, demonstrating that the need, purpose and effectiveness of collegiality are never tested more than during problematic times.
It is important to note that collegiality does not mean conformity. In fact, in the United States, the American Association of University Professors emphasized this point by issuing the following statement, worth repeating here in its entirety: "A distinct criterion of collegiality holds the potential of chilling faculty debate and discussion. Criticism and opposition do not necessarily conflict with collegiality. Gadflies, critics of institutional practices or collegial norms, even the occasional malcontent, have all been known to play an invaluable and constructive role in the life of academic departments and institutions. They have sometimes proved collegial in the deepest and truest sense."
Of course, like anything else, collegiality fluctuates depending on times and circumstances. Achieving and maintaining internal harmony rely on creating an overall atmosphere in which faculty, students and staff get along with one another and understand the importance of working together for a common purpose.
This is exactly the message our faculty, staff and students were conveying to those visiting ministers as they told the stories behind what brought them to Guelph and, more important, the reasons they remain.
This kind of devotion is the product of the genuine warmth within our University community. It is generated by the reverence our people have for the institution's mission and goals and their role in the process.