By Dan Rubinstein
What do we want Carleton University to be known for? How do we get there? And how do we improve?
These three big-picture questions were up for discussion at Carleton’s second Talk Exchange event, which brought together more than 30 faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors in Dunton Tower on Oct. 5 for an open and honest dialogue that will help inform the Board of Governors as it steers the university into the future.
Organized by the Board’s Community Relations and Advancement (CR&A) committee, the Talk Exchange — which debuted with a successful event last March — provides an informal way for a cross-section of stakeholders to share their thoughts and opinions with the Board.
“One of our goals is to be more engaged,” Board of Governors chair Chris Carruthers said at the start of the hour-and-a-half-long session, “and to find out what you want to happen at Carleton, and what we can do better.”
“Considering our motto — ‘Ours the Task Eternal’ — we always should be thinking about these things,” added CRA chair Linda Ann Daly, noting that the committee’s mandate is to listen to all of Carleton’s communities.
“If you’re like me and Linda Ann, you feel something when you’re on campus,” noted CR&A vice-chair Jay Nordenstrom, the former president of the Carleton University Alumni Association. “You feel an energy.”
The CRA’s mission, he said, is to harness this energy and help the Board make informed decisions about future directions.
Making Informed Decisions for the Future
Talk Exchange participants broke into five small groups to tackle the topics at hand. Volunteers from the Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities took notes that will be compiled into a report for posting under the Talk Exchange link on the Board of Governors website. (Feedback from the March 2017 gathering is available here.)
At one table, participants included Music Prof. Jesse Stewart, Department of Recreation and Athletics Assistant Vice-President Jennifer Brenning, and Leadership Development Officer Amanda Dobbie from the Office of Quality Initiatives.
Addressing the question about what Carleton should be known for, Stewart talked about the university’s strengths in community-engaged teaching and research, a distinctive part of the institution’s DNA. But this is also an area that could be improved, he suggested, perhaps by taking steps to ensure that every community collaboration has a focus on reciprocity so that external partners benefit too.
“It’s important to continually reevaluate, in an honest way, what we’re doing right,” said Stewart, “and how we can improve. We need to make sure we’re not known for something because of rhetoric, but because we put it into practice.”
Along the same lines, Brenning talked about the pride that students, staff, faculty and alumni have at Carleton — as evidenced by some of Canada’s best attendance at varsity football and basketball games — and the value of an engaged campus community. At its core, she added, her department is focused on wellbeing and health.
Dobbie mentioned the Carleton Leader initiate, which develops leadership at all levels of the university. “It’s about empowering people from as many departments and units as possible,” she said, “to work together to help us face the challenges of the future.”
In summarizing their discussions, one table highlighted Carleton’s standing as a university that students are passionate about attending, and as a university that produces enthusiastic graduates; another group suggested that the culture of enthusiastic and collaborative students could be developed beyond the culture of athletic competition; and other tables drew attention to Carleton’s enhanced global research reputation and emphasized that research must be institutionally supported and prioritized by all.
Serving the Public Good
Moving onto the second topic, Stewart raised the possibility of linking community service to professional performance review — to encourage and incentivize individuals to dedicate time toward serving the public good.
“Institutional recognition that these are valued contributions, and putting resources in place to recognize these contributions, could make a difference,” he said.
Brenning talked about the volunteer efforts of varsity athletes, who help charities and at public events, a spirit that is echoed across the student community.
Other tables, meanwhile, brought up the importance of valuing teaching as much as research, and of elevating Carleton’s culture of collaboration and interdisciplinarity.
These types of changes require buy-in from all corners of campus, participants agreed — and events such as the Talk Exchange provide a forum for communication that could help move Carleton in that direction.
One participant expressed surprise and pleasure that the Talk Exchange was held primarily for Board members to listen, which is precisely what the CR&A committee did.