The university will continue to thrive in a changing sector – and society – by embracing innovation and collaboration across campus, Western President Alan Shepard challenged the audience at his inaugural address Tuesday evening.
“There will always be a place for discovery-driven research and teaching,” he said. “But for those able to collaborate, to pursue multi-institutional work, to participate in interdisciplinary research and teaching, the opportunities will be even stronger.
“And how we think of these opportunities, how we organize ourselves to work together, how we pull together – it’ll really matter.”
On Tuesday, Western hosted the simultaneous installation of a president and a chancellor, outside the confines of Convocation and situated within its own ceremony, a singular event in the institution’s history. Shepard was installed as Western’s 11th President and Vice-Chancellor and Linda Hasenfratz as the 23rd Chancellor.
During an event rich in Indigenous ceremony and peppered with medieval pageantry, their common message was of helping the university chart its way through a complex future.
“There’s a lot to like about legacy, I have to admit, as someone who teaches Shakespeare and the literature of the scientific revolution,” Shepard told the assembled crowd at Alumni Hall.
“But there’s a lot to love in paying a lot more attention to a culture of innovation, too. Innovation is agnostic about the academic discipline. It’s about an entrepreneurial way of thinking, of seeing the world, of discovering and seizing opportunity. If you will, innovation is kind of a first-cousin to classical research.”
Hasenfratz, BSc Honors’89, MBA’97, LLD’19, echoed that call. She said it is important students develop the critical-thinking skills to navigate a world bombarded with information but less informed than ever.
“More than any time in history, we have to step back and question the conclusions and solutions being presented to us, make sure we really understand them, and then conclude for ourselves what we think is right and wrong, and let that guide our actions and decisions,” said the industrialist, philanthropist and CEO of Linamar Corporation.
“I believe Western will play an increasingly important role in teaching young people how to approach this new world of information overload and change in a balanced, fact-based, end-to-end, holistic way.”
Hasenfratz said all four of her children have or are pursuing degrees at Western, an institution that taught her how to approach learning, create life balance and learn critical thinking.
Named Canada’s CEO of the Year in 2018, Hasenfratz has been at the helm of Linamar for 17 years. Her father, Frank Hasenfratz, LLD’16, founded the business in 1964 from the basement of the family home. The business today employs more than 29,000 people at 60 manufacturing facilities in 17 countries.
She would like to see Western add more workplace experiences through co-ops and internships and increase the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math.
Hasenfratz, her husband, Ed Newton, and her father established the Linamar Scholarships for Women in Engineering and Business at Western in 2017 to support female students in the Engineering/Ivey Business School dual-degree program.
“I also, of course, am a huge believer in the power of entrepreneurship and the role incubators at universities can play in that. I love the fact that Western has an incubator and think that is absolutely a step in the right direction – a way for students to take a great idea and take a chance on it, to be an entrepreneur,” Hasenfratz said.
Making and cultivating relationships – with the city, with industry, with governments and with peers – will help Western continue to be excellent stewards of the university’s legacy, Shepard added.
He said Western must be positioned to lead and not merely to follow; to compete and co-operate differently in the digital age; and to stand out as a top global research-intensive university where students and professors motivate each other to solve some of the world’s most-challenging dilemmas.
“Those that shy away from innovating in their academic programs, in their teaching methods, in their engagement with students born into a digital world – those not bold enough – will struggle to sustain their currency and their promise.”
Universities – and the world – are changing rapidly, he said.
And that puts us into uncharted territory over “what it means to be human – how we communicate, how we experience community, how we understand, navigate and interact with the world.”
He believes people need to make more time for real connections in an ever-connected world.
“Universities that excel at the dawn of the Digital Age will be the ones where people make time for each other: Time to talk. Time to share ideas. Time for respectful debate, the heart of academic life. Together, we can propel Western forward, and upward.”
Shepard arrived at Western with his partner Stephen and two sons after serving as President & Vice-Chancellor of Concordia University in Montreal. He was previously Provost and Vice-President (Academic) of Ryerson University in Toronto. He has also held senior academic leadership roles at the University of Guelph, Texas Christian University, and the University of Virginia.
He praised Western’s traditions and rich future that make “purple and proud” more than a tagline.
“It’s shorthand, to me it expresses the joy, the beauty, the surprise, the rigour, the fun that happens as a Western student makes their way through all of the pressures, and pleasures, of earning a degree here.
“Western graduates are deeply loyal because they have had such a powerful, transformative experience in this academic community and this city.”
While Western holds global aspirations and imperatives, it also is “deeply rooted” in local relationships that include Indigenous communities and London-and-area connections.
“It’s possible to honour Western’s appetite to be internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading universities and, at the same time, engage locally with the community that helped found us,” he said.
The hour-long ceremony included greetings from 24 representatives of universities, colleges, alumni, staff, governments and from Ontario Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell.