President's spring town hall fosters campus-wide conversation

(Edmonton) University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera’s spring town hall meeting on Tuesday provided an opportunity for face-to-face dialogue between the president and the community.

Samarasekera began the meeting by saying she had decided to use all of the time allocated to take questions from staff, students and faculty instead of delivering prepared remarks. The president responded to questions from those in attendance, as well as to questions submitted through a form provided with the invitation to the event, posed through the university’s official blog, and live via the social networking site, Twitter. She said the many avenues for submitting questions provided an opportunity for a fuller conversation on key issues.

“I was quite amazed and impressed that so many people sent in questions. This is meant to be an open forum where all voices are welcome,” she said.

The questions asked of the president touched on a diverse range of issues ranging from the  university’s budget to a student query about getting the most out of the U of A experience.

The president’s answers to several of the questions are available on video and audio; links can be found on the university’s blog.

Samarasekera told the town-hall audience that she has been working closely with provincial and federal government officials, advocating that the province’s social and economic recovery and future prosperity depend on educated and imaginative citizens. She says that message has been well received.

“I am regularly meeting with government to make our case. I’ve met with the new minister of advanced education and technology and have held numerous meetings with deputy ministers and other high-level bureaucrats. I take my job of reminding the provincial government very seriously,” she said.

On the question of the U of A’s aims and development, the president noted that the university’s cornerstone documents—Dare to Discover and Dare to Deliver—continue to effectively express the university’s vision.

“The cornerstone documents are as true today, six years since I became president, as they were five years ago. They were not something I [alone] imagined; they came out of a huge process of consultation.” She says the university’s recently approved academic plan strikes a balance between current times and the future and puts the university in a good position.

“On the one hand, the academic plan retains a level of ambition about moving forward; on the other, it doesn’t try to paint a picture that we can do everything. Striking that balance is important now in order to be ready when resources are available for us to resume investment in those things that are important.”

The president was asked by an international student from China how best she could make use of the opportunity of being at “the best university in Canada.”

In response, Samarasekera said the U of A offers numerous activities that help students develop effective communication, as well as analytical and critical-thinking skills. But the value of a U of A education goes beyond that, the president said.

“All the things we do here are to help you to discover your passion and your own strengths, because ultimately that’s what’s going to help you in the long run. If you can discover that passion while you’re here, we will have done our job well.”