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A chair's reflections

Jim Spatz on his time as Board chair

- July 3, 2014

Jim Spatz, photographed at last year's Strawberry Social event. (Danny Abriel photo)
Jim Spatz, photographed at last year's Strawberry Social event. (Danny Abriel photo)

Jim Spatz has made his mark on Halifax.  As chairman and CEO of Southwest Properties, he’s responsible for iconic Halifax real estate developments like Bishop’s Landing on the waterfront and the south-end Grainery Lofts. But the exiting chair of Dalhousie’s Board of Governors says he never sought to leave a similar mark on his alma mater.

“I’ve put in a lot of time with a lot of very good, very capable people, both Board members and people who work at the university,” says Spatz, who was appointed to the Board in 2001 and became chair in 2008. But he credits the management of Dalhousie — particularly Tom Traves and Richard Florizone — "for doing the heavy lifting. Board members are volunteers whose job is to advise and approve, but it is the people who work at Dal who deserve most of the credit for ‎moving the institution forward, whether they’re teaching students or fixing toilets,” and for the “great progress” he’s seen at the university.
Spatz says he learned to self-edit in his role as chair.
“I tend to have opinions,” he says, speaking with Dal News literally steps and a plate-glass door away from the waterfront boardwalk outside his Bishop’s Landing office. “But I think when you are chair of something, you don’t want to be the first to voice an opinion.  You probably want to be the last, and you want to edit the number of times you put your oar in.”

A sympathetic ear

The Board is responsible for overall conduct, management and administration of the university — a broad mandate that means lots of issues make their way to the table. These included everything from building projects, to strategic plans, to issues like fossil fuel divestment — sometimes with students and other groups coming to Board meetings to voice their opinions.

Spatz is sympathetic to these issues, and to groups like Divest Dal. That’s why he worked to facilitate meetings so their voices were heard while still moving the Board’s agenda of overseeing Dalhousie’s well-being forward.

“I was a student once too,” says Spatz, who did a BSc and then graduated from Dalhousie Medical School. “My sense is when you’re a student and that age, if you don’t want to quickly fix the world, there’s something wrong with you.”

An important mission

Spatz practiced emergency medicine for 13 years before joining the property development business his father (who immigrated to Canada in 1950) began in the late 1960s. Spatz funded a Chair in Jewish Studies at Dalhousie to honour his parents, Simon and Riva Spatz. Now, as one of Halifax’s most prominent developers, he has an extra keen sense of Dalhousie’s “key and critical” economic impact on Nova Scotia and its capital city.

He notes the many ways that Dalhousie’s impact can be measured: its budget, the number of students it attracts to the region, and the fact that it represents 60 per cent of the Nova Scotia university system.  

He’s unequivocal about the incalculable measure he values most, suited to someone who has dedicated countless volunteer hours to a university.  

“The creation of knowledge is the most fundamental element to creating a prosperous future for us.”


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