Barry Craig looks for the same moment in others that was once sparked in him.
“Nothing is more exciting than seeing that moment when an 18- or 19-year-old undergraduate student – you know the one who cruised through high school trying to get marks, but not being enflamed or impassioned about anything – that moment when their head explodes and they say, ‘This is incredible what you are talking about,’” Craig said. “That moment, that was the bait that lured me back into academia.”
On July 1, Craig starts as principal of Huron University College. He follows Stephen McClatchie, who served as principal since 2011, to the leadership post of the Western affiliate.
A native of Woodstock, Craig holds a PhD from the University of Wales, an MA from Dalhousie University and a BA from the University of Kings College. A member of the Philosophy Department at St. Thomas University since 2000, he has served as that institution’s Vice-President (Academic and Research) since 2010.
Craig is on his “second career” – having spent time in the Anglican Church before joining academia full time. That “moment” in young students still resonates because, not long ago, it happened to him.
“I was completely lost, totally hopeless. Woodstock High School graduated me just to get me off the property,” he laughed. “I had no plan for my life whatsoever.”
As the summer after graduation faded, Craig had yet to apply for university. In August 1978, he thumbed a ride to Halifax and, thanks to the encouragement of a friend and the blind faith of a university president, he enrolled in the Foundation Year Program at Kings College. A few months in, his moment arrived during a lecture on Plato’s Republic.
“For the first time, at the age of 18, I realized there was a difference between having an opinion and knowing something is true,” Craig said. “That was the lightbulb moment for me.”
Today, he is a passionate defender of liberal arts education. He speaks with confidence about the discipline’s role in a thriving democracy and functioning society. He also preaches the gospel of the Canadian postsecondary system.
Craig knows the names: Wellesley. Barnard. Swarthmore. These American institutions offer a liberal arts education in a small setting, within intimate classrooms, taught by full professors who are experts in their field, all contained within a cozy community where you are known by name and not number. The only thing not small about the experience is the price tag.
“The funny secret about Canada is, we have a couple dozen institutions that offer that experience – not solely for the children of the elite, not solely for those who can afford a quarter-million dollar undergraduate education, but virtually anyone has access to it,” Craig said.
“Somehow, strangely, we have not recognized the value of these institutions in Canada. We think a St. FX (Francis Xavier University) or Acadia are ‘sort of like a Dalhousie’ or ‘sort of like a Western’ except they didn’t grow up. Well, no, they have a different mission.”
Ontario, he further contends, is even smarter. They take these smaller institutions and affiliate them with larger universities.
“When recruiting, here’s what I can tell students from around the world,” he explained. “‘Come to Canada. Have all the experience of a small, elite liberal arts school and be next door to a place like Western where you have all the advantages of a massive research institution – and all at an accessible price.’
“I don’t know why Ontario doesn’t shout from the rooftops that we have this remarkable model of undergraduate education unlike anywhere else in the world. It is pretty exciting.”
At Huron, the university’s founding institution, Craig eyes a bold future. Size is no excuse, he stressed, as St. Thomas and its 2,300-person student body, produced three Rhodes Scholars in five years. He looks to build on an already successful Huron by tweaking the current academic programming with offerings aligned to what the institution already does well yet will still differentiate them from every other school in the country.
“We don’t need to apologize for being small,” Craig said. “We don’t need to say we are a little junior version of a university. We are intentionally this size.”
Craig, who also places the Boston Red Sox at the “centre of Western Civilization,” has been recognized for his scholarship many times and has been active in curriculum, program and policy development. He twice received the excellence in teaching award from the St. Thomas University Students’ Union. From St. Thomas, he earned the Excellence in Teaching Award from St. Thomas in 2002 and a special merit award for research in 2008.
His book on Bishop John Medley, Apostle to the Wilderness: Bishop John Medley and the Evolution of the Anglican Church, was published in 2005, and he is a contributor to the Oxford Guide to the Historical Reception of Augustine. His most recent works are Recovering Hegel from the Critique of Strauss: The Virtues of Modernity and Rejoicing in Justice: Mark Helprin’s Vision of Dante’s Divine Comedy, co-authored with Dr. Sara MacDonald.