Chakma puts positive spin on criticism

The fact that people in London are talking about The University of Western Ontario, even if it is criticism, is good news to president Amit Chakma.

“I tend to look at these things as a glass half-full matter,” Chakma told Senate members during a Sept. 23 meeting.

This was in response to a question posed by senator Jim Etherington, a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, about recent local media coverage regarding Western’s town-and-gown relations.

“From time-to-time there are questions raised about the relationship between Western and the City of London,” Etherington says. “There are media reports questioning whether Western is doing enough to help stimulate the economy; to make investments in the downtown; to expand programs to persuade more students to stay in London after graduation. In the view of many there continues to be the two solitudes between town and gown.

“It’s important to continue to communicate that the presence of Western contributes significantly to the London economy,” he continues. “Why do we still have periodic and critical comments directed at the university?”

Chakma took an optimistic position in his response, stating the fact community members, including the media, are talking about the university means they attach value to the institution and its presence in the city.

“I tend to find more positive in those sorts of things than negative,” Chakma says. “Certainly the (London Free Press) newspaper and the journalist writing that article clearly attach value to Western. … I am pleased people think Western is important and can play an important role.”

The comment was shared in light of the recent flurry of articles on Western’s role in the rejuvenation of the city centre and retaining of graduates. The discussion was particularly timely in light of the news Western submitted a letter of interest to city council to expand downtown. The letter was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting of the city council’s finance and administration committee.

“A large segment of our community would not be quite familiar with what we do. That’s the ongoing saga of telling our story,” Chakma says. “At the end of the day I may claim we do as good of a job as we can. But I’m not going to, because at the end of the day what matters is how people perceive us.

“If the perception is that we are not telling our story, then we are not telling our story.”

Chakma listed examples of how the university’s faculties, research centres and students impact the local and international communities. Western has done a good job in communicating its contributions to city leaders, Chakma says, but the general public needs to be brought into the conversation.

Rather than set up a new committee to focus on community relations, Chakma prefers to look at the issue within its established organization.

“Our record is good; I have no hesitation in defending our record. But at the same time I say we can do more,” he says. “We have the capabilities that we can bring to bear in charting a future course for London.”

Other items discussed at the meeting include:

  • Senate approved revisions to the appointment procedures for senior academic and administrative officers of the university for the position of associate vice-president (research). The policy now allows for the appointment of either a faculty member or staff person to fill this role. If the appointee is faculty, the term would be five years, renewable. If staff, the term would be agreed upon between the vice-president (research and international relations) and the appointee and include provision for review and renewal;
  • Andy Hrymak, engineering dean; David Jeffrey, applied mathematics professor; Julie McMullin, special advisor to the provost (internationalization); and Erin Uberig, student, were approved to join the committee to select a vice-provost and associate vice-president (international education);
  • A joint instruction, dual-credential doctoral degree program from both Western and the University of Padua, Italy, in all fields of study common to both institutions was approved, effective Sept. 1;
  • Senate approved a LLM/M.Phil and LLM/LLM dual-credential degree program between Western’s Faculty of Law and NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad, India.