Munroe-Blum: Learn to succeed, shed fear of failure

Paul Mayne // Western News

Graduates must prepare for failure on the path to success, Heather Munroe-Blum, a distinguished academic administrator and scholar, told graduates from King’s University College, Information and Media Studies and Social Science at the Thursday morning session of Western’s 304th Convocation.

Western conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.) upon Munroe-Blum in recognition of her leadership and distinguished career in the academy.

“My life hasn’t been a straight line to achievement and success,” she said, noting her parents didn’t graduate from university and her upbringing, and early career, speckled with challenges, didn’t initially point to a university education, much less her future successes.

Throughout her academic career, Munroe-Blum has been recognized for her advocacy, exemplary leadership and as someone who gets things done.

From 1994-2002, she served as the vice-president for research and international relations at the University of Toronto. During this time, funding support for the university’s research programs doubled. Munroe-Blum was also able to convince the federal government at the time to invest $200 million to help Canadian universities pay indirect costs associated with their research.

She was the first woman to take the post of principal at McGill University, and during her tenure, QS World University Rankings named the institution among the world’s Top 25 universities.

From 2003-13, while Munroe-Blum served as principal, the number of faculty research papers in leading peer-reviewed journals increased from 3,000 annually to 4,443. This feat earned McGill a spot among the top two best performing universities in the country.

If all this wasn’t enough, Munroe-Blum led McGill in surpassing its $750-million fundraising campaign goal by raising more than $1 billion, out of which came hundreds of new financial awards for nearly 4,000 students.

She has authored or co-authored more than 60 scholarly publications, including four books, mostly focused in the realms of epidemiology and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

Among her most celebrated works is a 1999 report titled, Growing Ontario’s Innovation System: The Strategic Role of University Research, which she co-authored with former University of Michigan President James Duderstadt and Sir Graeme Davies, a former president of the universities of Liverpool, Glasgow and London.

The report is credited with influencing the government to invest in postsecondary education through a new framework of science policies and programs at Ontario’s universities.

Munroe-Blum’s leadership and advice has likewise been sought by the Ontario and Quebec governments on issues including health, well-being and social justice, child and youth policy, university governance, research, education and tuition.

Among many awards and accolades, Munroe-Blum was named as one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women three times.

What led to her success was a series of disappointments, among them not getting into the first doctoral program she applied to, and not getting a job she really wanted upon graduation, Munroe-Blum said.

“Failure comes with learning, self understanding and resilience, the ability to adapt. These are key attributes for problem solving,” she said. “The experience of having a failure and overcoming it is of increasing value.”

In his citation, Western President Amit Chakma praised Munroe-Blum for her exemplary academic leadership.

“It has been said that the mark of a successful leader is whether or not she leaves the institution she has led in better shape than when she arrived,” Chakma said.

“The mark of a truly great leader is not only whether she improves her own institution, but whether she also strives to serve society by improving the entire sector to which she has dedicated her life,” he continued.

“(Munroe-Blum’s) extraordinary leadership and dedication to university education and research serves as an inspiration to both her peers across the country and to future young leaders alike.”

Munroe-Blum noted graduates have worked hard to get to this day, but they must keep in mind the road ahead won’t always be smooth.

“You may have some anxiety about where life will take you next. You won’t always win. From time to time, you will fail. But you will succeed if you are not afraid to fail,” she said.

“Good things come often from the most unexpected places. Surround yourself with friends and family who are good for you, and who see in you the potential and ability you might not see in yourself.”

Also during the ceremony, Accounting professor Ruth Ann Strickland received the King’s University College Award for Excellence in teaching by Part-Time Faculty.