Dr. Gervan Fearon took over as the president of Brandon University approximately a year ago, officially being installed with the title last October. A husband and father of five, Fearon, who was born in Birmingham, England, spent a few minutes recently with Journal editor Lanny Stewart to discuss his tenure at BU and what lies ahead for the university.
You took over the position last August, however you were officially installed as the 15th president of Brandon University last October. What do you remember about that day and just how special was it for you?
I think there were a number of items that were particularly special. I think one part is the recognition of the history of the institution – an institution that dates back to 1899 and before, becoming a university in 1967. Recognizing that a host of individuals from professors, from staff, from former presidents and board of directors as well as the community at large, that there had been such an incredible history to this university and to this institution. I have an opportunity to be another individual that was going to be contributing to the future of the institution, so being able to recognize and support the heritage of it as well and what it means to the community, the province and to the country as one of the longstanding post-secondary educational institutions in Canada. In all that context, it was very special.
What’s a regular day like for you as BU prez?
I would maybe characterize it as three-fold. I think the first one – we actually have in our academic plan, we use the language, ‘looking ahead’ – so a portion of the day is really looking ahead. Asking the question: what does the future of Brandon University look like? How can I work with a team here and across the city and across the province in being able to move towards the possibilities that are before us? Looking ahead not only one year or so but actually five years, 15 years. There’s a portion of my time that’s spent with individuals which is planning over that kind of time frame, that horizon. Looking at the population growth of the city, of the region and of the province and saying, ‘what kind of institutional capacity do we need to meet the demands of the community and contribute to business development?' A second part of the day is the regular administrative and academic covenants of the institution. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made – what faculty to hire, what programs to offer, those kinds of just day-to-day decisions. Another portion of the day is what I call connecting – connecting with students, connecting with faculty and staff, connecting with a community and connecting with the partners of stakeholders. So when you sum that all up, it really lends for an incredibly busy day.
Going from the Big Smoke to the Wheat City… was it a big adjustment for you?
Interestingly enough, the answer is no. Part of it may not be widely known but actually my first two degrees were agricultural from the University of Guelph. I also worked with the ministry of agriculture for many years in Ontario and I was the executive assistant to two deputy ministers for agriculture there. I've also worked on a farm. My PhD is from Western, so I lived in London, Ont. When I was in Guelph, the population I believe was around 75,000. So in that regard, being here with 50,000 (people), I’m quite comfortable.
When you took over the role last year, you were quoted in various interviews, saying, “Brandon is at a transition point right now.” What did you mean by that comment?
What I meant by that is that, at one level, post secondary education across Canada, is I don’t really want to say changing, but it’s subject to a number of forces. Fundamentally, post secondary institutions have an obligation to society at large, in terms of insuring that citizens of the society have the best knowledge and capability to be active and affective citizens in building a nation and building communities. The second one is an obligation in terms of providing the foundation to individuals in the community and across the country so that they can pursue their aspirations – whether it’s life aspirations or career aspirations – as well as build towards prosperity for themselves and their families in their communities. That pressure I believe is always there on post secondary institutions and in many regards, Brandon University has been a university that has a set of programming aimed at serving the local community. But at the same time, we’re one of less than 100 universities in Canada, so in that sense, we’re one of just a few universities in the province. So we’re at a crossroads in making sure that we not only see ourselves at serving the local community in Brandon and southwestern Manitoba, but we also have to see ourselves in terms of our role in post secondary education for the whole province. It’s about making sure that we’re active participants in fostering growth and prosperity for the community at large. I think, in many regards, that sense of engagement was there before, but it’s about making that a stronger priority and a stronger emphasis.
How was your summer? Did you take any holidays?
My summer was fantastic. Not only was it a beautiful summer, I also took some vacation time. My wife Kathy and I got on a train in Portage and went north. We got all the way up to Churchill. It was our opportunity to see Manitoba. We wanted to see it by train. It was a really beautiful way of seeing the province.
September is here, which means it’s time for BU students to hit the books once again. Are you looking forward to another academic year at BU?
For us, September is when the year starts and when everything blossoms on campus. We’re already seeing a lot of students who are here and getting here now. Our faculty and staff work during the summer to prepare for the opening in September and it’s really an absolutely exciting time.