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Listening and Learning: Thoughts on the Transition

Dr. Ralph Nilson, President
Vancouver Island University
January 2007

Purpose: The purpose of this document is to provide guidance and a frame of reference for the transition to a new President at Vancouver Island University.

Timeline: The transition period has been identified as the five months prior to the Convocation ceremony that takes place at the beginning of June 2007 and at which time the presidential installation exercise will take place marking the end of the transition period.

Background: The transition to new leadership is a unique period in an institution’s history and it is always a challenge to achieve an understanding of the mix of emotion that comes with a transition. There are two parts to this type of transition. First there is the essential element of “honoring the past while looking to the future” or, as I have quoted from the elders, “standing on the shoulders of those who came before.” This has and continues to be done in the celebrations of Rich Johnston’s presidency. His leadership has provided the base from which the community and the new President will move to identify and accept the responsibility of “new beginnings.” Second, there is the celebration of new beginnings by devising strategies to introduce Vancouver Island University and the community it serves to the new President. It is this second aspect of the transition on which this document focuses.  

Presidential transitions can be left to chance but some prior consideration and planning will help create a smooth transition to establish a solid base for future initiatives.  A well articulated communications plan will help ensure the multiple campus constituencies VIU serves will have the opportunity to be informed and to participate during this time of institutional transition.

As the new President, I will work hard to listen and learn from the VIU community and the wider community our institution serves.   Through this process of engagement, I will develop an appreciation for the scope of the institutional activity so that we may work together to form a vision for the future of the institution. Together, we need to continue to develop a vision for Vancouver Island University and the communities it serves.

Throughout this transition period the emphasis will be on meeting the people who make up the Vancouver Island University community as they are the institution’s most important resource. As identified in the VIU Values Statement, developed through a participatory process by the Vancouver Island University community this past year, first and foremost the students are the core of all our institutional investments.  Therefore, my initial activities in January 2007 will focus on the student learning environment and student engagement. I will then invest in meeting more of the campus community as well as meeting the broader community outside the institution.

Vancouver Island University has already been engaged in its own activities to prepare for the transition to new leadership and through these activities has fostered the expectancy for this period of change. The recent collective developments of the VIU Values Statement, as well as the strategic plan, including the Signpost exercise and consideration of university status, have stimulated considerable introspective activity. This introspection has created a dynamic sense of community building and an appetite for change that is essential to a successful transition.  Revisiting and revitalizing the values statement of the institution and strategic planning are reflective activities that help set the stage for something new.

In thinking through this transition I have recognized that as in most planning exercises it is important to work from a solid base. I started with the VIU Values Statement which was just reaffirmed and evolved a set of statements below to guide the transition while building a base for future growth and development.

In my initial five months at VIU I hope that my interactions across the campuses and in the community will allow us to begin discussions on how we might:

  • Discover new understandings through enhancing opportunities for listening to and learning from VIU students, faculty and staff and the community it serves.
  • Encourage, foster and support connections through engagement in the campus community and beyond.
  • Enhance the sense of community through fostering close engagement internally and externally, demonstrating respect for others through listening and learning, and ensuring a safe and inclusive environment for engaging in dialogue, discussion and collegial interaction.
  • Invest in innovation by cultivating, envisioning, and supporting student, faculty and staff creativity and engagement in opportunities for personal expression.
  • Engage in critical thought and assessment to enhance quality and rigour in teaching, scholarship/research, and service; and further to ensure the use of appropriate resources to achieve successful outcomes.
  • Enhance the community’s commitment to a positive work environment.
  • Foster civic engagement based on: social responsibility, equity, ethical behaviour, respect, and accountability in the use and allocation of institutional resources.
  • Engage the community in a celebration: of change and transition; of the people at VIU who are the key to our success; of the historical base and future, envisioned, potential; of pride in place; and the commitment to stewardship of the natural environment and the beauty of the campus settings.

The next five months will be about discovery, making connections, community engagement, promoting innovation, recognizing excellence, fostering balance, appreciating personal responsibility and leadership, and transition celebrations.

Thank you in advance for engaging in this exciting period of change at Vancouver Island University. I look forward to a busy and rewarding initial five months.

Dr. Ralph Nilson
President and Vice-Chancellor
Vancouver Island University