August 31, 2005      
From the Principal

When I became Principal last July, I said that I would take a year to listen closely to members of Bishop’s different constituencies before establishing my priorities. After an interesting and challenging year, I have identified four areas of interest. They are not rigid, nor are they radical, but they are important to the future of our University.

Governance is a prominent topic on our campus, as it is at most universities and in boardrooms across the country. There is, however, confusion about what it means. Governance embodies social architecture. I use an analogy of a ship when explaining governance. Who is the most influential person on a ship? The captain, the chief engineer or the cook? The answer is none of the above. The most influential person is the naval architect. Everyone on the ship acts within the parameters set by the naval architect, who decides in advance the type of ship they will be working on and how it will be navigated.

Governance is also about looking to the future. Educators today must play the role of naval architects who will design the ship that will carry our children through the 21st century. To do this, we need be clear about our mission and decide how best to accomplish that mission. The process requires collegiality and compromise, just as every institution is the result of compromises among its constituents. We will revisit and reestablish – or perhaps simply reaffirm – how we will coordinate our resources in order to fulfil our mission.

The issue of finance continues to affect higher education across Canada. At Bishop’s, expenses exceed revenues. I call this a structural deficit. We are not running a deficit because people on campus are spending more than they should. We have a structural deficit because our traditional revenue base (tuition, government transfers and ancillary enterprise profits) does not allow us to meet our mounting contractual obligations.

The situation is compounded by the fact that Quebec universities have, for a considerable time, been underfunded by $375 million a year. Bishop’s represents 1% of the higher education budget in Quebec, so year after year we face a shortage of $3.75 million in our operating budget. In fact, the MEQ (Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec) has agreed that this amount represents a valid estimate of Quebec’s annual shortfall in funding of higher education.

Universities – and everyone who believes in the importance of higher education – must lobby the government and make the public aware that we cannot sustain this chronic underfunding.

We should not, however, believe additional government funding will solve all our financial issues. We need to explore opportunities for revenue generation and revenue diversification, while being mindful of the importance of maintaining academic standards at Bishop’s. Some areas to consider are the privatization of international student fees, diversification of ancillary enterprises and growth of language training programmes and summer camps.

To be successful in the future, Bishop’s must provide a value added learning experience to students who are not looking only for learning content but also for learning context. They are looking for academic learning and also for experiences to complement their time in the classroom. We will build on the past hallmarks of the “Bishop’s Experience” to ensure that all students engage in a high level of extracurricular activities to complement their classroom education.

Our relationship with the wider community is vital, as part of the role Bishop’s plays in the social and economic health of our community: regionally, nationally and globally.

What will Bishop’s do to contribute to the sustainable development and prosperity of our region? We have much to offer, not only to the economic prosperity of our community, but to its cultural and intellectual prosperity. What will our role be in developing Lennoxville into a vibrant university town and in establishing Sherbrooke as the “cité universitaire” in Quebec and Canada? Now, more than ever, we must think beyond the arches of the Quad.

These four areas will help shape Bishop’s priorities and strategic plan for the coming years. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that we excel at providing an undergraduate education. Our strategic plan, therefore, will not call for radical change. But we must be clear, thoughtful and outspoken about our vision and our mission.
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