Back in an all-too familiar location, former Western President Paul Davenport encouraged University of Western Ontario graduates to be champions of the liberal arts during his convocation address on Thursday, Oct. 28.
A graduate of Stanford University (BA Economics) and the University of Toronto (MA, PhD), Davenport led Western for 15 years, returning this week to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.) for his strong public advocacy of the central role of higher education and fundamental research in the knowledge economy.
He spoke to about 600 graduates during Western’s 296th convocation from the faculties of Education, Music, Engineering, Health Sciences, Law, the Richard Ivey School of Business, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
“I urge you, as Western graduates, to spread the word widely that the liberal arts are a key component of our educational system at all levels,” says Davenport, who retired as Western president in July of 2009.
Davenport offered five pieces of advice to graduates to help them along the road of life: stay close to family and friends; keep learning and discovering; be leaders and active contributors to their communities and country; stay physically active; and keep in touch with yourself and your values.
In the spirit of the great saxophonist Charlie Parker, “may the music of your lives be significant, compassionate and joyful,” says Davenport.
From 1973 to 1989, Davenport was a professor of economics at McGill University and also served as Associate Dean of Graduate Studies (1982-1986), and Vice-Principal for Planning and Computer Services (1986-1989). From 1989 to 1994 he was President of the University of Alberta. While at Western, Davenport also served as Chair of the Association of Canadian Universities and Colleges of Canada (1997-1999) and Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities (1999-2001).
His research in economics has focused on productivity growth, fiscal federalism, and the knowledge-based economy. Davenport has published widely in these fields in academic journals and books, and his research has been supported by grants from federal and provincial granting councils. He has supervised over 20 Masters and PhD theses and has taught honors and graduate courses in macroeconomics and on the Canadian and Quebec economies.
Upon retirement, Davenport and his wife Josette moved to Tours, France, with their daughter Audrey, who is studying with The Open University (U.K.). He is involved with numerous volunteer activities including teaching courses on the Impressionists in Paris at Western and the University of Toronto; leading bike tours for Western students and alumni in France; volunteering in Rwanda; and is chair of a Panel on Research Integrity established by the Council of Canadian Academies.
In his citation, Earth Sciences professor and former provost and vice-president (academic) Fred Longstaffe described Davenport’s “visionary leadership” and his raising Western’s profile among the first rank of Canadian universities by focusing the collective attention on the quality of the student experience and the impact of our research activities.
“Paul has demonstrated a life-long commitment to increasing the value of higher education in the global knowledge economy, and … as a critical, key part of that advocacy, he has been and remains to this day a passionate champion of the liberal arts,” says Longstaffe. “With imagination and fortitude, Paul re-drew the campus map, placing academic activities at its heart. He also underlined the vital importance of protecting and enhancing the charm and character of Canada’s most beautiful residential campus.”
Leading the university through three comprehensive Strategic Plans – 1995, 2001, and 2006 – Davenport defined the institutional aspirations and engaged the campus community more deeply with the broader society that is served.
“And as our President, ‘Dr. D’ was generous in sharing his personal touch and sense of humour with all members of his Western family; he engaged with us one-on-one, in groups big and small; and he was even known to spin his own jazz records on the campus radio station,” says Longstaffe. “He did this all with zeal and a respectful manner and with an approach that gave shape to our common cause of building our great university.”
As President Emeritus, Davenport continues to contribute to Western through his sage counsel, with his direct participation in teaching popular courses on French art and culture, and through research projects on international post-secondary education as an Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Education.
Also during the ceremony, the Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching was awarded to Faculty of Health Sciences professor Kathy Obright.