J.W. George Ivany (1989-1999) - installation speech

Installation Speech

President J.W. George Ivany

February 3, 1990

In the year 1990, the Province of Saskatchewan will celebrate its 85th birthdav. Not, perhaps, a terribly significant date other than to remind us of the newness of this young province. What seems to me a more striking observation is that this year will also be the 83rd anniversary of the founding of the University of Saskatchewan. For only two years after the establishing of an independent province it was determined that there would be a provincial university. Indeed there were precursors to this event dating back to 1889 – such was the determination of the settlers of the new territories to build their own institution of higher learning. Each time I reflect on this remarkable fact my mind's eye is filled with a picture I first observed some months ago while reading the excellent history of this great University written by Professor Michael Hayden, titled Seeking A Balance - The University of Saskatchewan, 1907-1982. The picture shows a small group of somber, dark-frocked gentlemen standing out on the bare prairie in what must have seemed to many a most unlikely spot to place a university, no prop in sight save the sod-turning spade. For these were the men of vision. There would be a University. A University of Saskatchewan would serve its people. Young Saskatchewanians would not have to travel to Manitoba or Ontario to complete their educations. The scattered, isolated farm settlers would have their lives enriched and their agriculture improved by a University built to serve them.

And what of this vision? What has happened to the settlers' dream of 83 years ago? We would all concur, I think, that they could not have imagined in their most optimistic moments what they were setting in motion. In 1990, bluntly speaking, the University of Saskatchewan is one of the most distinguished universities in our country. More complex an institution than most, its nearly 18,000 students take programs in 14 Colleges comprised of over 70 Departments. Degrees are awarded in 22 disciplines with a multiplicity of credit and non-credit programs. There have been some 75,000 graduates over the years of whom 50.000 arc in contact with us in 1990. Truly the youth of Saskatchewan are served well, here, at home.

The commitment to provincial service has remained at the core of the objectives of the University. In the early days the notion of servite was firmly entrenched in the area of agricultural extension. Professors moved about rural Saskatchewan in close contact with farmers whose fields became their laboratories and test plots. The emphasis of the provincial economy on tilling the soil was mirrored in a University with a major mission to improve and extent productivity. But also early on, the mandate of service began quickly to extend to areas outside the strickly applied agricultural sciences, a deliberate decision, no doubt, on the part of the founding president Walter Murray who, quoted in the Hayden history, had written:

A State University cannot confine itself to the realization of an idea but must serve the many sided life of the community. It must keep in close touch with practical needs and yet must be true to the best University traditions. (p.23)

Thus the tradition was established that the University would attend to social and cultural needs as well as more deliberate, career oriented objectives, a tradition which stipulated that professional education belonged on a university campus alongside the fundamental disciplines. The extension division from its outset delivered not only short courses and demonstrations on farming techniques but assisted in the formation of social and cultural organizations throughout the province, delivering courses in history and philosophy, lectures on public affairs, and the like.

As we enter the decade of the 90s service to the province continues to be the primary objective of the University of Saskatchewan. But service must be more broadly defined than previously understood, encompassing far more than teaching and extension, If there is to be a chance for diversification of our economy, the research and development capacity of our University will be central to its success.


As an institution committed to teaching we have distinguished ourselves in the national setting. The quality of art education is best observed through its product, the graduate. A positive illustration of this kind of evaluation of our campus wide commitment to teaching excellence was provided in the local newspaper, the Star-Phoenix, recently during the celebration of Governor General Hnatyshyn's installation, himself an alumnus. Focussed upon the College of Law we were reminded of some distinguished alumni of our University: former Prime Minister Diefenbaker, Barry Strayer an author of Pierre Trudeau's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Supreme Court Justice Emmett Hall, a former Chancellor of this University who, as chairman of the Royal Commission on Health Services, ensured the creation of our national medical care system, and who in a landmark decision moved our nation in the direction of recognition of aboriginal land title. Such illustrations of service through teaching excellence, service to the province and to Canada, could be illustrated in alumni from each and every one of our colleges from the actress Frances Hyland to Norman Wagner, past president of the University of Calgary. From her honor Sylvia Fedoruk our current Lieutenant Governor to Francis Leddy, former president. lJniversity of Windsor or Ann Saddlemeyer, master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. Or consider John Stoick the President of Gulf Oil, an alumnus of the College of Engineenng as were two of his three predecessors at the helm of Gulf. Each of these distinguished graduates epitomize the efforts of our faculty over the years. The faculty of the Universitv have always nurtured such commitment to pedagogical excellence as represented in such recent teaching award winners as Roy Crawford of Animal Science, Frank Vella of Biochemistry, Ron Marken of English, Cecil Doige of Veterinary Pathology, Ron Verrall of Chemistry, Otto Radostits of Veterinary Medicine, Gordon Johnson of Pharmacology, Ray Skinner of Physics, Michael Swan of History, Sylvia Wallace of Pharmacy, Mel Hosain of Engineering or Patrick Rennihan of Education.

Another critical way in which the modem university uniquely serves its community is through the research enterprise. Although it is frequently thought of as distinct from the teaching responsibility I see research and teaching at a university as intimately bound. To be taught by a scholar whose knowledge is at the cutting edge of the evolution of a discipline is what makes unique a university education. It is scholarship based on research which clearly distinguishes the university from the learning environments of other institutions. As we head into the 90s we find in the University of Saskatchewan an internationally recognized, large and complex research organization. In this year alone we will attract nearly $40,000,000 in research grants and contracts, almost $14,000,000 in agriculturally related research alone. These funds, attracted from Federal and Provincial sources as well as from the private sector, support a wide range of research activities both fundamental and applied. It is not surprising that research in our province is healthy in such disciplines as agriculture and veterinary medicine, but it is noteworthy that we do research of international renown in many, many areas, from the geophysics of the earth's core to communication in outer space, from artificial intelligence to the problems of race and gender, from environmental issues to work on the earliest historians of ancient Rome. Recently, in a competition to establish National Networks of Centres of Excellence, the University was allocated significantfunds to participate in six, perhaps to become seven, Networks. These will bring an additional $9,000 ,000 worth of research to the University over the next four years, nearly $6,000,000 of this coming from the Space Research Network. It is also impressive that an additional $2,000,000 from this Network will flow to a number of local companies, themselves research spin-offs having their roots in our Department of Physics and the College of Engineering. Meanwhile our Partners in Growth Campaign will raise $12,000,000 from the private sector towards the new $92,000,000 Agriculture Building being funded otherwise by the province, which will provide a research environment to assure that we maintain our tradition of leadership in agricultural research.

This University also serves its province through fundamental research into matters of local concern. Thus our Toxicology Research Centre conducts studies of regional toxicology which explain the abnormally high rates of Multiple Sclerosis found in some of Saskatchewan's rural communities. It is not accidental that micro-surgery has become an important area of study and expertise in our College of Medicine given the statistics that show the farming environment to have the highest rate among industries of accidents leading to severed limbs. In Crop Science we have a long and distinguished record of breeding of new varieties of plants, especially adapted to deal with conditions of drought, chilling cold and local pests. Indeed our research focus on the productivity of semi-arid regions has established this University as a world leader in such studies. Basic research explores the conservation of prairie wild life and the ecology of prairie lakes. And where, but in Saskatchewan, would you expect to find a Centre for the Study of Cooperatives? Indeed several excellent examples of research serving the needs of the province can be found in our ancillary research organizations, for example the Institute of Pedology, the Prairie Swine Centre, the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organization. The spin-off of companies such as BIOSTAR from VIDO, SED Systems from the Institute of Space and Atmospheric Studies serves the national and international communities as well as the province.

But before turning from the concept of research as service I wish to pointedly remind us all of the contributions to Saskatchewan life made by researchers in disciplines other than the applied. As an example, our Drama Department has long been integrated with the evolution of theatre in the province. Some of the most successful companies during their evolution have shared our people, our resources and even our impoverished theatre space in the old Hangar Building. Music in Saskatoon is almost indistinguishable from the workings of the Department of Music – from symphony, to chamber, to jazz; from the annual musical UNIFEST to the Greystone Singers. And can one even think of Art in Saskatchewan without contemplating the role of the Emma Lake Art School? Over the years teachers such as Emrys Jones, Murray Adaskin, or Gus Kenderdine and their successors have molded a cultural legacy here on the prairies that immeasurably enriches our lives. In the disciplines that comprise the humanities and social sciences we have, as well, established standards of performance which hold true to the spirit of the University traditions which the founding president held so dear. The values imparted by a liberating education find critical expression in research papers and monographs. Our new Humanities Research Unit will raise the profile of the humanities and demonstrate the concerns and expertise of humanist scholars. I believe its creation strikes an important contre temps to the increasingly narrow foci adopted by national granting councils and governments who, not only in Canada but throughout the western world, seem to be slipping into the pervasive perspective that places value only upon that which appears or is assumed to be economically relevant.

Yes, in 83 years much has been accomplished. The University built to serve has served well. The first president plotted a most noble course. And yet there remains much to do. In the years ahead we must reaffirm our commitment to a number of our ideals. We need to enhance and revitalize several of our programs. To accomplish such ends may require some attention to our governance structures. And in times of restraint painful decisions may be required concerning reallocation of resources. For one thing is certain, we must protect quality and excellence in whatever we do.

I strongly believe that the University must reaffirm its mandate as an agent for social justice. In difficult financial times it has been too easy to avoid concrete commitments to morally justifiable actions and programs. As only one example we have done too little to promote equity of opportunity in employment. Women continue to be under-represented in our faculty and administration and as students in some of our programs. Similar to other Universities we have undertaken to follow federal guidelines in setting up an Employment Equity Program. But like our sister institutions we can hold little pride in having been so coerced to action. We can not claim the honor of having been the moral and social leaders our communities expect of their universities. In another instance Native Indians are not only under represented in our programs but, in spite of some affirmative action efforts in several Colleges, too little is done to effect a successful transition into what continues for many indigenous people to be a terribly foreign environment. And we must remember in the face of this shortcoming that Saskatchewan, among all provinces, has the highest proportion of people of native ancestry in Canada. Universities, traditionally, have a distinguished history of leadership in the most crucial issues facing their societies. We have a moral obligation to use our privileged position as a centre of scholarship to promote enlightenment, to stimulate discussion and propose action. I believe our people expect from us leadership in such sensitive areas as human rights, racism and sexism. Recent Canadian news events such as the Donald Marshall inquiry, the Montreal massacre of women, or the harassment of females at several Engineering Schools demand remedial attention. We must do more!

It has become almost trite to say that the 90s will be the decade of the environment. Those of us who as young professors or graduate students in the 0s thought the decade would be a decade of decision. should reflect upon how little was really accomplished from our "movement." I submit that what was essential and missing was the critical, objective approach which scholars are supposed to cherish. We must not permit the next decade to repeat what can be described in retrospect as the nostalgia and romance of the 0s. The problems of the global environment have become so critical that simple idealism cannot help us out of the dilemma. Science, technology and the corporate western world have finally recognized the dangers in the disasters of Bhopal, of Chernobyl, of the Valdez, of the global changes in our earth-borne greenhouse, of the mindless penetration of the life preserving ozone shield. And precisely for that recognition the 90s will be the decade of the environment. Our University has developed major programs of research in many fields of critical environmental importance. Sustainable resource has a powerful meaning to prairie people who for decades have worried about soil conservation, erosion and fertility, about the problem of pests and the equally bothersome problem of their control. A new era of agriculture demands a merging of agronomic concerns for productivity with ecologic concerns for sustainable resources and a healthy planet. The time has come to bring far greater coordination to our large research capacity, to collapse traditional disciplinary boundaries, to seek a greater vision for the efforts of our environmental specialists. Our objective must transcend narrow scientific, technologic, and economic concerns and embrace ethics and values, policy and law and above all, education. For until the concerns of environmental degradation reach out from the laboratories and studies and become in a central way part of the liberal education of every single one of our graduates, there can be no fundamental change. We must do more!

Finally, the 90s must be the decade in which the University of Saskatchewan reaches out, beyond provincial boundaries more aggressively than ever before. We know how the world has become a global village, how communication has broken barriers which were centuries in the making. Our teaching and research programs must create a learning environnient which prepares our students to lie and work in an international context. The presence of international students on our campus, the exchanges among faculty members from Saskatchewan with colleagues from around the world, and the research contracts we have in such places as China, Thailand and Malaysia, in Brazil, the Sudan and Kenya, or in Ukraine are positive examples of what it means to be a University, alert to those demands in the 1990s. The demands and opportunities in the international community are enormous. It may be necessary for us to focus our attention and energy along well defined lines. Without discouraging the individual contacts of scholars wherever their curiosity may lead, we should have institutional goals which match our particular expertise, or our local conditions or our cultural and historical beginnings to those of other countries. As a single example of this kind of opportunity we should perhaps take greater advantage of our agreement with the University of Chernivtsi in Ukraine. It is, by the way, one of the oldest agreements between a university in the Soviet Union and a western university, building as it does upon the culture and language of many of our early Saskatchewan settlers. It provides a major advantage to the University during this remarkable time of change which has opened Eastern Europe and the USSR. Given matched interests in language and culture, in semi-arid regional study, in agriculture and in mining this would seem a singularly appropriate objective. In any ease we must attempt to coordinate and clarify our goals and objectives in the international arena.

In conclusion, the University of Saskatchewan has served its province well for the past eight decades through teaching and service and especially in research. Our graduates are not only a provincial but a national resource. Our research and technological expertise is critical to the improvement of our economy. Our contributions to the arts and humanities affect our quality of life on every hand. Opportunities abound in the decade ahead. But I feel duty bound as president, even on this happy occasion, to conclude with a note of caution, perhaps even a sense of alarm. For while it remains a vibrant, nationally important institution, our University has been going through some difficult times. The 80s have not been kind to Saskatchewan. Natural problems of climate have combined with the impositions of international trade arguments, the changing value of the Canadian dollar, and the speculation in agricultural land prices to make the past decade one of restraint for our people. The University, no less than the rest of our economy, not unexpectedly has suffered as a consequence. The most public evidence of these troubled times was displayed in a faculty strike. While the causes of this unrest were often simplistically portrayed as a matter of disagreement over salary and benefits these were only partially causal. Our faculty remains loyal, and committed to the highest excellence in scholarship and in teaching. When these cornerstones of service become dangerously impaired, when faculty members through no fault of their own begin to be faced with insurmountable odds in the execution of research or in pedagogical performance, we can expect disruptions of normalcy.

Throughout the past decade the University has attempted to keep faith with the mandate which it has historically accepted. The doors remained open to the youth of Saskatchewan far beyond the point where it would have been prudent to establish enrolment quotas. Quotas were established only as a last resort and, in retrospect. were established too late to halt the deterioration which has become evident. Yet access is clearly what the people of our province wanted, and expected. Recent outcry in our Senate over the imposition of closed door policies loudly attest to this fact. Recent administrations and Board officials tried valiantly to keep the faith. And what else should they have done, could they have done? In a province familiar with the vagaries of weather and climate, a province so completely responsive to the annual crop yield, the economic ups and downs of what goalie-cum-author Ken Dryden calls "Next Year Country" beat a familiar rhythm. The decision, taken in the early 80s, to tighten the belt, accept the pressures of enrolment growth unaccompanied by appropriate resource increases, was morally correct. After all, would things not get better "next year"?

The time may be at hand to change direction. Perhaps the province can no longer keep the dream alive, can no longer match the vision of those early settlers who defied all odds. They wanted a University, here, in Saskatchewan. Our young people would no longer have to go to Ontario, to Manitoba to be educated. A University would serve them, here, at home. I do not believe that vision has died. The time, however, has come for a public recommitment to this institution, to that dream. I pledge, as your seventh president, to strive for that reaffirmation.