Despite an unsettled political climate around the world, and changing, uncertain times in the postsecondary sector, Kathleen Kwan feels Western faces a promising future.
“With its reputation, breadth of scholarship and research, there are just so many channels of opportunity for the university. I would like to be part of enabling it to fulfill those opportunities,” Kwan noted.
“I hope to be a sense of stability and cohesion to Western. Where it has been, where it wants to go, is exciting. Western has so many strings to its bow.”
Kwan starts her new role as University Secretary this week, after serving as Director of Legal Services and University Solicitor at the University of Hertfordshire (U.K.) since 2010. She follows Irene Birrell, who stepped down from the role in April to become the College Secretary at King’s College London.
Kwan started her career as an adjudicator for the Environmental Appeal Board in Ontario, a role she said gave her a solid grounding in due process and fairness in practice. She dove headfirst into dealing with members of the public, often in stressful times, and learned the importance of impartiality, she added. From there, she moved into the role of a judicial officer at the University of Guelph – the first person to hold such a position.
“I was responsible for administering hearings across campus for all the staff, students and faculty. Confidentiality, impartiality and integrity were key hallmark principles,” Kwan said.
“You had to have credibility with people so they trust you and the process. To me, that is a key aspect in a role where you are neutral and dealing everyone across the university. People may not like the process, or how it plays out, but if they have faith in you and the process, that’s the most important thing,” she continued.
These lessons were essential so early in Kwan’s career. She served as Secretary of Senate at Ryerson University, building on her knowledge of running a fair process and “moving forward with key issues without getting caught up in red herrings.”
“Senate is all about enabling our colleagues in the academic community to be able to move the institution forward,” she said.
After Ryerson, Kwan moved into private practice and settled in England where she worked with universities across the United Kingdom, setting up international collaborations between institutions and establishing a professional network of connections around the world – something she is excited to bring to her new role.
“Really, my whole career has been balancing legal and governance issues, managing risks, looking at opportunities and being able to weigh them. But it has also been about moving forward. Process, policies and problemsolving are really the hallmark of what I do. I’m looking forward to bringing that to Western,” she explained.
“I may be the University Secretary, but I would be nothing without a good team. That applies to my team, and the senior administration and the university as a whole. We have to ensure when trouble hits, we as a university are cohesive in how we respond and look after each other. When we look after each other, that’s how a university succeeds.”
Kwan knows there have been some tumultuous times in governance at Western in recent years. She also knows leadership will change – particularly as terms for both the President and Provost come to an end in the next few years. Her hope is Western recognizes its potential not only in Canada, but in the world, and moves forward with a strong and optimistic vision.
“If the university is to grow, and move up, it needs to let go of the past. Learn from it – but bolster optimism. Western has a lot to be optimistic about. With Brexit, terrorism around the world and that ‘Person Who Won’t Be Named’ in the United States, Canada and its universities are on the verge of stepping up and having learned from those that came before us,” she said.
“Canada is inclusive, not hierarchical. We embrace difference. That’s an important message to send to the world. The world needs some optimism; there’s no reason Western can’t be among those sending that message.”