Reflecting on my first six months at Brock

The six months since I began serving as Brock University’s Vice Provost, Teaching and Learning has been an immensely meaningful and rewarding journey and I want to mark this milestone by sharing a few reflections…

The choice to take the opportunity at Brock was a family decision and one born out of work with a wonderful coach, Isabel Budke, who helped me to achieve greater clarity about my personal and professional goals. One reason this wasn’t a quick decision is that I absolutely loved my work and adored my colleagues at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, where I first began working in 2007. I was very happy at KPU, gratified by our sector-leading supports for open educational practices, how we managed to support our university community through the first two years of the pandemic, the many ways in which we innovated with access-oriented programs and policies, and especially proud of the inclusive, supportive, and values-driven culture that we had carefully built and nurtured. I was also deeply grateful for the opportunities I enjoyed along the way that helped me to grow as a leader and a human being. But after working with Isabel I also understood that I wouldn’t be able to grow as much as I wanted to (or could) unless I challenged myself by stepping into a different environment. I also felt reassured by the knowledge that there had been sufficient development of capacity, expertise, and leadership at KPU that the work I had begun would continue.

Brock wasn’t the only foreseeable external opportunity, but it did align incredibly well with my other criteria, foremost among which was finding an alignment with my core values. I came to this understanding through in-depth conversations with close friends and confidants at Brock both prior to and during the application process, but also because I deliberately used the interview process to interview my potential new colleagues, to communicate clearly about the kind of values-based leadership I aimed to bring, and to interrogate my own perception that Brock was a good fit. I also wasn’t entirely a stranger to Brock, as I had visited here in 2017.

Six months later I still have a smile plastered on my face as I walk through our beautiful campus (located within a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve, no less). Beyond the beauty of its physical geography, Brock is blessed to have a palpable sense of community that is upheld by the wonderful people who work here and who have deep connections with this university and the surrounding community. That Badger pride really shows! I saw it at residence move-in day, student orientation events, BIPOC community socials, Fall Preview Day, convocation, and our Tribute to Teaching celebration (see below for photos from some of these experiences). I saw it at the Unity Cup and at Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games events. I see it when I spend time at the beautiful downtown campus of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. And I especially witness it in the thought and care that I see infusing the everyday decision-making of so many colleagues across the university. Leading with care and compassion is a big part of that values alignment I was looking for. And I see so many true leaders and kindred spirits here, including Brad Clarke, Robyn Bourgeois, Trecia McLennon, Leanne Taylor, Ebru Ustundag, Dawn Shickluna, Cal Murgu, and of course my dear friend Giulia Forsythe, to name but a few [note: following yesterday’s exciting announcement you can also add the incredible Sheila Cote-Meek to this list!].

It has been especially meaningful to spend time with and to get to know the members of my teams, including in Brock’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation and Co-op, Career, and Experiential Education. We have enjoyed many delightful coffee/lunch/dinner conversations and walks around campus. We have played tennis and celebrated holidays together, and even sung together while playing the ukulele (no surprise to anyone who knows me). And every day that I am on campus I enjoy starting and finishing my day by walking through the corridors of my teams’ offices and seeing my colleagues in person. Having experienced the great impact on mental well-being of one’s relationships with the people we work alongside every day, I take seriously the privilege of supporting such incredible people and am honoured by their confidence, trust, and friendship.

In terms of my formal role, it has been a busy first six months, with highlights that include sponsoring the creation of a cross-functional group focused on supporting trauma-informed practices, collaborating to plan new supports for open educational practices, addressing some longstanding structural issues, working closely with the Brock University Student Union and the Graduate Student Association to identify and address various barriers experienced by students, assuming support of the Ombuds Office, joining the Social Justice Research Institute, and assembling my research team (the Inclusive Education Research Lab). But top of the list has undoubtedly been the development of our academic plan, which I worked to refine through an extensive consultation process, and which received the unanimous approval of our Senate on January 18.

This plan represents an important roadmap for our academic operations for the next five years and that reflects the will and has the support of the university community. It is bold, progressive, and reflects our shared values. In focusing on teaching and learning the plan draws on the lessons of the pandemic, takes seriously our ethical obligations in relation to the calls to action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and our commitments to the Scarborough Charter, and aims to play a leading role in fostering progressive change as well as to prioritize care, especially for the most marginalized members of our university community.

Hence you will see that the plan includes commitments to 44 actions including:

  • Develop resources and supports for educators grounded in anti-racist and trauma-informed pedagogies that sustain inclusive and harassment-free learning environments;
  • Develop and adopt an ethical framework for educational technologies that ensures the procurement of digital tools do not perpetuate and reinforce systemic inequalities and racial biases;
  • Embed Scarborough Charter principles of Black flourishing, inclusive excellence, mutuality, and accountability into academic planning, including through the development of a Black Studies program;
  • Design supports and opportunities for non-traditional learners, including working adults and those with parental responsibilities, to ensure they are well prepared for success;
  • Identify and work to dismantle systemic academic barriers experienced by BIPOC, disabled, 2SLGBTQ+, and gender-diverse faculty, staff, and students and develop supports and community that foster inclusive participation and belonging, and that support flourishing;

And of course:

  • Support the creation, adaptation, and adoption of open educational resources;

As you can see, there is a lot of good work that lies ahead. I am excited to partner with colleagues across the university in implementing changes that I believe will help make the academy a more supportive and inclusive place. And I am deeply grateful to both our Provost Dr. Lynn Wells and our new President Dr. Lesley Rigg for their strong support and for fostering an environment where I am able to do my best work. Far from the usual performative allyship that we see in higher education, I see Brock as a place where real change is taking place and I am thrilled to play a part in this.

Reflecting on that today represents just the 10% mark of my term in my current role, I am filled with both gratitude for the path that led here and anticipation for the road ahead. As us Badgers say, Surgite!

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