Weese reflects on a legacy of connections

In 2004, Jim Weese arrived at Western from the University of Windsor, where he had been dean of Human Kinetics for seven years (his magic number), when he was recruited down the 401 to be Western’s dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. This month, Weese leaves that post.

Special to Western NewsIn 2004, Jim Weese arrived at Western from the University of Windsor, where he had been dean of Human Kinetics for seven years (his magic number), when he was recruited down the 401 to be Western’s dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences. This month, Weese leaves that post.

Jim Weese never expected to be here forever.

“I have always viewed these jobs as temporary,” said the outgoing Health Sciences dean. “You commit to these roles – fully. But for me, 10 years is the absolute maximum. (I think, ideally, seven years is. That’s what the leadership literature would suggest.) It’s always good to have a new voice, new ideas, new energy. But it has been a great run – a real privilege to be dean.”

This month, Weese leaves a post he has held since 2004. As he recently reflected back on his tenure, he repeatedly revisited a theme of connections – between faculty, students, administrators, even alumni and donors. These connections he’ll remember; these connections will serve as his legacy.

Weese arrived at Western from the University of Windsor, where he had been dean of Human Kinetics for seven years (his magic number), when he was recruited down the 401 to be Western’s dean of Health Sciences.

“I felt I needed a larger institution, a larger faculty. It was a real opportunity to challenge myself, meet some new people and work in new areas,” Weese said. The substantially larger Western offered just that.

Having formed in 1997, as the amalgamation of three separate faculties (Nursing, Kinesiology and Applied Health Sciences), the Faculty Health Sciences was less than a decade old when Weese arrived. He found a faculty somewhat fractured, still searching for an identity, but with infinite possibilities.

“There was such potential here. But a significant change effort was required,” Weese said. “I am proud to say the situation is completely reversed. Through the support of the university, and the hard work of my colleagues, we have been able to accomplish far more than even I thought possible.”

Today, Health Sciences is comprised of six schools – Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Studies, Kinesiology, Nursing, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy – a large interdisciplinary graduate program in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, three Research Centres (Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging, International Centre for Olympic Studies and National Centre for Audiology), Mustang Athletics (38 varsity teams) and Campus Recreation.

The faculty boasts more than 3,200 undergraduate and 800 graduate students, including 200 PhD students. (All those numbers have risen in the last decade.) During his tenure, Weese welcomed the faculty’s first Rhodes Scholar (Saumya Krishna in 2013) and set new high-water marks for National and President Scholars.

Construction on the current Health Sciences Building was underway when Weese arrived, and he continued the explosive physical expansion of the faculty through the Western Student Recreation Centre and the currently under-construction Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS)-Nursing Building.

From the start, Weese never wanted to be a dean who managed a “holding tank” for five or six schools to which he simply provided resources. He wanted to build connections.

“A faculty needs to come together as a faculty – academically, programmatically, from a research point of view and, also, socially to get to know each other and build synergies across the faculty and the institution,” he said. “That’s one of the real hallmarks of the last 10 years. There is a camaraderie, a positive spirit, a confidence that is clearly evident.”

He credited university support, colleagues and students for building the faculty up during his tenure. He also nodded to alumni and “outstanding external support,” specifically Arthur and Sonia Labatt, who have provided the faculty with millions of dollars for facilities, research chairs and scholarships that have “advanced the faculty in ways that would not have been possible.”

Sport and Recreation, including all Mustang Athletics, also fell under Weese’s purview. The sport management researcher, who also happens to be a former university athlete, coach and athletic director, drew particular joy from that area.

“Getting to know our student-athletes, seeing them on campus, and then getting to watching them compete on the weekends – I love going to the games and seeing these student-athletes give it their all knowing that, yes, there will be a winner and a loser, but the teamwork, the involvement and the stretching of their abilities to a point there never thought possible was worth it all.”

A lifelong student of leadership, Weese has been as willing a mentor as he has been a mentee to those he respects. Even today, he studies leadership literature – both academic and popular – and oftentimes brings his colleagues into the discussion. He believes in professional development for his team, especially when that training applies research to practice. He keeps Friday afternoons purposely clear to think, plan and measure.

He measures his success, in part, by the success of those around him.

“I take great pride in seeing people develop. I watch and follow them,” Weese said. “I have graduate students of mine who are now professors, former faculty members in roles as deans and, of course, our students, who go on to great things, all across the country. That’s one of the great things about our job – we get to watch people go on and do amazing things with great pride and admiration.”

Weese can reel off a list of names of his personal honour roll, all Health Sciences colleagues who moved on to larger roles, including Linda Miller, School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS) vice-provost, and Angie Mandich, former acting associate vice-president (student experience), at this institution. Just this month, Kevin Wamsley, Health Sciences associate dean (programs), was named academic vice-president and provost of St. Francis Xavier University.

“I think it’s really important to invest in people,” Weese said. “Leadership succession is really important. We don’t get to anoint our successors, but we can certainly see to it that people are ready to assume these roles. I am very proud of our record of doing that.”

A search for the next Health Sciences dean is currently underway.

Weese isn’t the kind of leader who’ll have a clean ‘to-do’ list when he walks out the door. He wishes he could have seen that ‘next project’ through to completion. “We got an awful lot accomplished, but there are a few things I would like to have had done,” he said.

On the construction side, he would loved to have cut the ribbon on the FIMS-Nursing Building, as well as push through much-needed renovations to Thames Hall. “I love the external look of Thames Hall, and I love its geographic position in the heart of campus,” Weese said. “I wish I could have been able to get that renovated on my watch. It’s on the list; it’ll happen and it’ll happen soon.”

On the academic side, he wanted to see a new Rehabilitation Sciences school created and built in existing space around the Health Sciences Building. That could have given Western “a Health Sciences compound” to “generate greater synergies” into the future.

Going forward, Weese hopes to stay in academic leadership, either in a senior leader’s role or back in the academe teaching and researching sport management or leadership. The next challenge, whatever it may be, is a matter of what connections he wants to make.

And to Weese, the timing of his next challenge couldn’t be better.

“I would rather leave loving the job, and people wanting me to give a little bit more, than staying too long,” he said. “We all have a shelf life, and I want to make sure I leave before my ‘best before’ date hits.”