The Western balance
I am often asked what distinguishes Western from other universities in Canada and abroad.
My response focuses on how well we balance the two essential elements of our academic mission: teaching and research. Western distinguished itself on many fronts in 2004, but none more important than our proven ability to provide an outstanding undergraduate student education while cultivating one of the country’s top-ranked research-intensive environments.
Indications of our success on the student experience front reveal themselves in many ways, including the results of the 2004 Globe and Mail ‘Report Card’ student survey and the inaugural alumni satisfaction survey conducted as part of Maclean’s annual university rankings issue. Both surveys support what I have thought to be true for several years and what our own internal surveys support: that Western provides the best student experience among Canada’s leading research-intensive universities.
In the Globe and Mail student survey, Western came out on top. Receiving a grade-point average of 4.05 on a 5-point scale, Western led the country with the highest mark among ten of the top Canadian research-intensive universities. In the Maclean’s graduate survey, Western achieved the highest average score among medical-doctoral universities. To the question, “Was your university experience a significant benefit to you?” 89 per cent of Western alumni responded “yes”–the highest percentage among all Canadian universities.
The true measures of our success, however, go beyond media-driven surveys and rankings. Western distinguished itself on several other fronts in 2004, and a few of those achievements are described in this year’s report.
Dr. Bertha Garcia became Western’s 18th recipient of the 3M Teaching Fellowship, the most prestigious teaching award in Canada. No other Ontario university has as many 3M teaching fellows as Western, and we rank second nationally only to the University of Alberta. Fourth-year engineering and business student Joelle Faulkner was named a Rhodes Scholar in 2004, the fourth Western student to receive this honour in the past seven years.
On the research front, the innovation of our faculty members was recognized last year with 13 new Canada Research Chair appointments, raising Western’s total number to 46 since the federal granting program was created in 2000. From advanced robotics and computer algebra to neonatal health and experimental cardiology, Western is home to nationally and internationally recognized leaders across many research disciplines who collectively attracted more than $182 million in funding in 2004.
More than 55,000 alumni demonstrated their faith in their alma mater by contributing to the success of Campaign Western, which culminated in May after raising more than $327 million. Taking into account planned gifts and funds leveraged through government matching programs, the Campaign mobilized more than half a billion dollars for the University. Two months prior to the funding drive’s close, Canadian businessman Seymour Schulich announced a gift of $26 million to support 110 endowed student scholarships. As a result, the newly named Schulich School of Medicine is well positioned as the most student accessible medical school in the country.
In terms of community involvement, Western was active on many fronts. Western’s Ivey Business School entered into a unique partnership with the City of London to custom design a professional development program for municipal managers. In December, London’s management staff began training sessions in areas including sustainable development, social responsibility, contingency management, ethics and human resource management. Western’s United Way contribution was the largest single donation made by any organization in London, and we also had the most individuals making “leadership” gifts valued at $1,000 or more. Western’s faculty, staff and students clearly care about our community and are working in many ways to make London better.
What makes Western’s success on so many fronts particularly noteworthy is that it has been achieved in the face of enormous fiscal challenge. The fact that Ontario’s per-student level of government funding is the lowest of any Canadian province (and 40 per cent lower than public universities in the United States) is simply unacceptable. We look forward with cautious optimism to how the provincial government will respond to the report on post-secondary education recently submitted by former Ontario premier Bob Rae. Mr. Rae pulls no punches, acknowledging Ontario’s higher education system is badly under-funded and that student aid is in critical need of reform.
With the consultation phase of the Rae panel now complete, our greatest challenge is to foster a climate of public support for colleges and universities. We need to explain how expansion of education and research in Ontario universities will help achieve the cultural, social and economic goals of our province, while creating value-added employment opportunities and attracting private investment. And we need to argue that failure to pay attention to higher education opportunities for the current generation will undermine our ability as a society to sustain social programs–including health care–in the future.
It is my pleasure and privilege to share the stories that follow on behalf of Western. They reflect the commitment, innovation and creativity of our faculty, staff, students and alumni. Raising the profile of higher education as a top-priority issue on the public agenda will help to assure Western’s future success along with that of other post-secondary institutions across our province.