A familiar face: Teri Balser on her interim presidency, strategic planning

- July 23, 2019

Teri Balser, currently serving as interim president, speaks at the Dalhousie Conference on University Teaching and Learning earlier this year. (Bruce Bottomley photos)
Teri Balser, currently serving as interim president, speaks at the Dalhousie Conference on University Teaching and Learning earlier this year. (Bruce Bottomley photos)

Dalhousie’s leadership during the transition to its next president and vice-chancellor has a familiar face.

Following the conclusion of Peter MacKinnon’s six-month term as interim president at the end of June, and with new president Deep Saini not set to arrive until January, Provost Teri Balser has been appointed by the Board to serve as interim president through the remainder of 2019.

“This is really an incredible opportunity for me, as a provost, to look at the world through the president’s lens,” says Dr. Balser, who began her time serving as president on July 1. “It’s also a chance to continue some of the great work we’ve been doing as a university community over the past several months and set us up for Deep’s arrival in the new year.”  

She also notes that, even though her time in the president’s chair is only temporary, there’s a certain pride that comes from being the first woman and the first 2SLGBTQ+ person to serve in the role at Dalhousie.

“They’re not things I typically make a big fuss over, but I do think it’s evidence of how far Dal has come — that our Board has asked me to serve as president in the interim,” she says. “When it comes to equity and diversity work, we often get down on ourselves for needing to do more or do better, but the truth is, we at Dalhousie are doing a lot and we’ve come a long way.”

Keeping the momentum

Dr. Balser was responsible for overseeing Dal’s equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) portfolio as provost, and it’s one of a few key files that she is keeping with her as she serves as interim president. (Chris Moore, dean of the Faculty of Science, is fulfilling most of the provost’s duties during this time.)

The others include her role as chair of Dal’s Budget Advisory Committee, as well as supporting the recently launched external review of Dal’s international activities.

“It’s about taking look at Dal’s engagement globally — a comprehensive look at everything international-related at our university, from supporting students to engaging with partners abroad,” she says.

But among Dr. Balser’s top priorities as interim president is strategic planning: continuing the process she developed and has been leading as provost, guiding the university towards its next strategic direction.

Planning for Dal’s future

Phase One of the planning process began last year with an initial listening survey, followed by a series of 37 engagement meetings across all Dal’s faculties that engaged with more than 600 people. That first phase wrapped up with a planning retreat in May with more than 200 participants.

“We’ve had a tremendous response so far, hearing what’s on people’s minds and getting a sense of what people are thinking about in terms of priorities moving forward,” says Dr. Balser.

The planning process is now in Phase Two, focused on what Dr. Balser is calling “Learning Circles”: informal groups of faculty and staff who have signed up to discuss a particular topic of interest, ranging from areas such as health and wellness, to campus sustainability, to enabling interdisciplinary research, to supporting experiential learning. “The goal is to let people find out what’s going on, to see outside of their own frame and context so when we come back together for Phase Three in the fall, we can share the knowledge and learning and get a sense of where we are.”

Phase Three will involve faculty, staff and students broadly as part of self-study teams intended to dig deep into Dal’s main priority areas and generate high-level recommendations for Dr. Saini to consider when he arrives and works with us to finalize the university plan.

Getting involved

Dr. Balser encourages anyone who wants to get involved in the planning process to reach out, and notes there will be many more opportunities to do so as things ramp in the fall. (In the meantime, those who are not already engaged and want to learn more can email the Office of Planning and Analytics at OPA@dal.ca)

“For me, this whole process is very much driven out of a desire to create means and mechanisms for inclusive participation at all levels of the university,” she says. “It’s finding a way for all voices to be heard, to find ways for people to meaningfully participate — not just fill out of a survey or attend a meeting, but to drive, to generate the recommendations from the bottom up.”

“The more people we can bring around the table, the stronger our overall plan will be and the stronger our overall direction will be. That, to me, is what’s really critical.”


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