New Board Chair ready to move forward

Paul Mayne // Western News

Hanny Hassan refuses to look back any longer.

“We have to move away from apologizing. We have gone through this period; we have learned some lessons; we have made some judgments about things we need to change,” said Hassan, BESc’64, who was named the 27th Chair of Western’s Board of Governors last month. “We are not going to look back. I don’t want to discuss what happened. It has been dealt with.

“We will move forward. I want to be optimistic and position and create a vision everybody can buy into.”

Admittedly, as Vice-Chair since 2014, Hassan had a front-row seat for the controversies of the last year, which included a no-confidence vote on the President and Board Chair by the university Senate. However, that insider’s view has not tempered his optimism about bringing this university community together.

“I don’t want to diminish it, but I don’t know if the acrimony of the last year is as pervasive as it appeared to be,” Hassan said. “Whether it is or not, it is something we will have to deal with as a Board. It wasn’t so much the issue at the centre (monetizing presidential leave), but that was a trigger for so many other things that we have to dig down and address.

“We need to capitalize on where we are at. We need a shared, ‘can-do’ vision. That means we have to talk more frequently with each other so we can understand each other.”

Named to the Board by the Alumni Association in 2009, Hassan has been chair of the Bylaws Committee, and a member of the Audit and Senior Operations Committees. He was also a member of the Board Governance Review Task Force, charged with leading the changes to the way the Board operates.

The task force’s review was released publically Nov. 19 and approved in principle at the Board’s regular meeting on Nov. 26.

“We have done a good job listening,” Hassan said. “Obviously, we cannot do everything everybody wants – some things are just not possible. But we have to recognize we have differences and somehow manage those differences. For the most part, we can deal with the issues of communications and transparency, which seem paramount.”

The oldest child of 11, the London native made up his mind to be an engineer in elementary school. “I always wanted to be part of building something.” The family’s tight financial circumstances made Western – and its recently launched Engineering school – his only choice.

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Western in 1964, Hassan and family moved to Halifax when he landed a job with Public Work Canada. He eventually earned his master’s degree in engineering from Dalhousie University in 1972. After a short stint in the United States, he returned to London in 1974.

He advanced within Dillon Consulting, where he served as a director and partner until his retirement in 2002. Now, he manages an independent consulting engineering practice, Alef Consulting in London.

His activist bent started young, and at home. Neither of his parents immigrated to Canada with much education. His father arrived in 1913 and learned to read and write slowly over time. His mother arrived in 1939 and became an articulate, knowledgeable advocate for the family. She was active in the school lives of her children.

“My father was more of a doer than an activist,” Hassan explained. “But when he told us to get involved, his slogan was ‘One hand doesn’t clap by itself – so get in and do your part.’”

Hassan attended public school in an era of mandatory Bible classes. Local pastors and priests were often brought in to lead the lessons. Non-Christian kids – mainly the handful of Jewish and Muslim kids in class – were excused, if they wished to be.

Hassan’s family did not allow him to shy away, however.

“My parents felt we should attend, hear what was said and come home and talk. They didn’t think we should be identified as being different,” Hassan said. “There were times things were said that were pejorative about Jews or about Muslims. I would come home and tell my parents. If it was about us, they told me I had to go back and tell the teacher that it needed to be corrected so the other kids in the class didn’t have the wrong idea about what we believed.”

When confronted with Hassan’s clarification, teachers often deferred to his expertise and allowed him to inform the classroom. Soon afterward, the 12-year-old Hassan was explaining his faith at Sunday morning breakfasts in Christian churches.

“That’s really where it started,” Hassan laughed.

Since, he has become a long-time volunteer promoting understanding between cultures and religions. He has a long career in community service in London and beyond, including as Co-Chair of the National Muslim Christian Liaison Committee and, most recently, Chair of the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee of Ontario. In 2011, he received the Order of Canada in recognition of his contributions.

Hassan sees transit – and Western’s place in the city’s vision – as the biggest challenge facing the university in the next year. Despite the challenges offered by that, he knows much of the next year will be spent moving on the last.

“We are facing some challenges that my particular skillset in community work – this business of alignment and talking – work well toward. We need some community voices now; we need some people who have done this type of mending work,” said Hassan, whose three sons are Western graduates.

“Sometimes these things aren’t a matter of substance, but of approach. If we can get people who are very upset to talk in a way, and we respond in a way, where we understand each other, at some point, if we disagree, we will accept it is genuine and we have different positions and it is still OK. We cannot expect a community this large, with such diverse interests, is going to be exactly aligned on everything. In fact, having diverse voices is a strength.

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Last month, Hassan was named the 27th Chair of Western’s Board of Governors. He follows two-term Chair Chirag Shah, who stepped down from the Board in December.

  1. Chief Justice Richard Martin Meredith (1908-14)
  2. Charles Ross Somerville (1914-19)
  3. Arthur Thomas Little (1919-54)
  4. Gordon John Ingram (1955)
  5. Douglas Black Weldon (1958-67)
  6. Albert Edwin Shepherd (1967-70)
  7. Joseph J. Jeffery (1970-73)
  8. Richard Macaulay Ivey (1973-76)
  9. William C.P. Baldwin (1976-77)
  10. Alfred Brandon Conron (1978-80)
  11. Geno F. Francolini (1981-83)
  12. William A. Jenkins (1983-85)
  13. Robert G. Siskind (1986-87)
  14. Earl H. Orser (1988-89)
  15. John S. Brant (1990-91)
  16. Claude M.V. Pensa (1991-93)
  17. Elizabeth (Libby) Fowler (1994-96)
  18. William W. Peel (1997-99)
  19. Carol McAulay-Weldon (2000-01)
  20. Robert G. Colcleugh (2002-03)
  21. Donald M. McDougall (2004-05)
  22. Helen Connell (2006-07)
  23. Michele Noble (2007-09)
  24. Frank Angeletti (2009-11)
  25. Steve Coxford (2012-13)
  26. Chirag Shah (2014-2015)
  27. Hanny Hassan (2016-present)