Q&A: Dalhousie's acting president on opportunities for the year ahead

- February 15, 2023

Frank Harvey. (Nick Pearce photo)
Frank Harvey. (Nick Pearce photo)

Frank Harvey began the new year with new responsibilities as he assumed the role of acting president and vice-chancellor at Dalhousie.

Dr. Harvey will serve in the president’s role as the university carries out the search for its 13th president over the coming months.

Learn more: Presidential Search website

Many in the Dal community will already be familiar with Dr. Harvey, who first joined the university in the early 1990s as a faculty member in the Department of Political Science. He's an award-winning teacher and scholar, the former dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and served as the university's provost and vice-president, academic until taking on this new acting role.

Dal News caught up with Dr. Harvey to ask him a few questions about his priorities for his time in the President’s Office.

You’ve worked at Dalhousie for more than 30 years — as a professor, chair, dean, provost, now acting president — and have no doubt witnessed a lot of change at the university during that time. What are your thoughts on the changes we've seen at the university and what do you think is uniquely exciting about this current moment?

I've certainly experienced the kind of significant change that typically evolves over longer timelines as Dalhousie expanded enrollments, increased the size and number of campuses and programs, improved the scope and excellence of its academic, research, and service missions, and strengthened the relationships and partnerships with local, regional, and global communities. I have also had the good fortune of being around long enough to attend many Milestone Receptions celebrating faculty, staff, and senior administrators who have been at Dalhousie for many years — they certainly deserve much of the credit for our growth, success, and impact.

With respect to the "uniquely exciting" part of this moment, I would highlight the imperative to fully understand and address the lessons emerging from the pandemic. As provost during the COVID crisis, I witnessed first-hand the incredible and sustained efforts invested by so many people across the institution to help our Dal community get through the pandemic. Their contributions were nothing short of extraordinary. Nothing I've witnessed during my time at Dalhousie comes close to matching the community spirit, dedication, and resilience demonstrated by our students, faculty, and staff — including our essential and front-line workers — over the past three years. 

This unique experience is a great opportunity for Dal to change in ways that acknowledge the importance of work-life balance and our health and well-being — all essential for Dal to continue to grow and thrive in an environment where we’re not all physically in the same space five days a week. Although these changes are necessarily taking shape in different ways across our units and campuses, this is an opportunity for all of us to learn from and respond to this emerging hybrid work environment and work together as an institution to adopt best practices.

Recommended reading: Recruitment of new Black scholars to boost key academic priorities at Dal

As provost and vice-president, academic, you were heavily involved in the creation of Third Century Promise, Dal’s current strategic plan. What are you most proud of about the plan and progress on it so far, and how will it help guide us through this period of transition?

Without question, I am most proud of the time and effort invested by so many dedicated colleagues throughout the 18 months of consultations, the eight excellent self-studies that informed the plan's content and recommendations, and the excellent work by colleagues and staff across our Faculties and units as they  implement their own strategic plans in alignment with Third Century Promise's vision, mission, and principles. 

Several Faculties have recently completed new strategic plans with specific strategic initiatives, programs, and projects that are also in full alignment with the academic, research, and community service aspirations outlined in our TCP. I am also incredibly proud of the excellent work currently underway by our pillar co-leads and our Planning and Analytics team collecting progress metrics for key priorities. 

When combined, this is the important work responsible for Dalhousie's success, reputation, and legacy that will inevitably guide us through this and any subsequent leadership transition. 

Learn more: Explore Third Century Promise

The pandemic, and other pressing global challenges, have taken their toll on most people over the past few years, including those at Dalhousie. How can we foster a sense of community and create a stronger campus culture in the wake of these challenges? 

As I shared earlier, the past three years have required incredible resilience. While the lessons we pick up from the experience will help inform our path forward, I also recognize what a distressing time it’s been for our students, faculty, and staff. 

Part of what has made the pandemic so challenging has been the inability, for so much of it, to connect with our students and colleagues in person. As I take on the acting appointment, the one thing I’m most looking forward to is ensuring that I — and Dal’s entire leadership team — have a strong and visible presence on campus and in our surrounding communities. It’s a pivotal time to strengthen and re-establish relationships and traditions that were postponed due to the pandemic. 

What are some of the key priorities and projects underway at Dal that you are specifically focused on helping to advance in your capacity as acting president?

A large part of the president's role focuses on supporting Dalhousie's core priorities by establishing and strengthening external relations with local and provincial government leaders; counterparts across the post-secondary sector in Nova Scotia; national partners in the U15; and alumni, donors, and other key partners as we prepare for our next comprehensive campaign.

I will be working closely with our Government Relations team to reinforce the importance of our partnership with the Province of Nova Scotia to ensure that, as a civic-minded university, we are proactively looking to support provincial priorities as we follow through on the core academic and research mission of the university. We are also engaged with the Province of Nova Scotia and other Nova Scotia universities in renewing our collective Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). A central objective during my term is to continue to work with the provincial government and partner universities to further our shared goals. For example, we’re proud of Dalhousie’s impact on the provincial economy, prosperity, and plans for growth, as well as the role we play in supporting the government's healthcare and other priorities.

Another key priority during my acting appointment is working with our Advancement leadership to maintain momentum towards the launch and ultimate success of the university's comprehensive campaign. The funds we’re raising, the relationships we’re developing and fostering, and the academic, research, and community programs we’re building through our campaign will lead to extraordinary and transformative impacts across Dalhousie and the communities we serve. 

There are many exciting examples of transformative major campaign initiatives being developed across the institution, encompassing projects related to student supports and scholarships; health and medical research; transformative health care; precision agriculture, smart farming, and food security; advanced battery storage and clean technologies; social innovation and entrepreneurship; supporting the growth of digital technologies and industries; our expanding commitment to ocean research and the environment; and, of course, strengthening equity, diversity, and inclusion across the university.

Other important internal projects I’d like to help advance while serving as acting president include working with the Board of Governors and Senate on university governance; ongoing work with our VPs and deans on a review of our budget model; completing our UniForum benchmarking surveys to better understand and improve our administrative and support services; addressing student housing pressures; and continuing progress on international student recruitment, retention, and related supports. 

I am also looking forward to facilitating a smooth transition as we complete the search for our next president, and as the selected candidate takes on the distinct honour and privilege of working with our Dalhousie community.


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