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Trevor Garland doesn't mind stirring the pot. In fact, the MUNASA president is rather good at it, or so it seemed during the last panel discussion of the annual CACPUQ, hosted by McGill on September 22 and 23. The first speaker of the five-member panel, Garland had been asked if non-academics can lead in the academic context. "I don't think so, no," he said. "The institutional hierarchy is very much in place at universities and it doesn't often allow for non-academic leaders."
Garland was immediately challenged by another panelist, Janyne Hodder, McGill's vice-principal of inter-institutional relations, who said that in the increasingly complex university environment "talent trumps the class system."
Guy Berthiaume, vice-rector, development and alumni relations, Université de Montréal, garnered some laughs from the 300 people assembled when he suggested that the role of non-academics in today's university is to make sure people reply "Yes, Rector."
Gradually, the debate turned into a discussion with panelists outlining the conditions needed to foster the healthiest working relationship between professors and non-academics. "The most important aspect of that exchange is that we identified the key element," says Garland, looking back at the symposium. "Respect."
In fact, the panel's final consensus perhaps was best summed up by moderator Henry Mintzberg, who said that this feeling of admiration, in fact, should extend beyond colleagues to embrace what universities stand for. "We work here because, ultimately, we have - or should have - a deep respect for knowledge. If a university is healthy, it is open. People should be confident enough to take initiatives and make contributions, big and small."
Mintzberg then literally turned the tables on the audience, telling each group to continue the discussion and formulate questions for the panel. The first member of the audience wanted to know more about leadership qualities. Bernard Robaire, long-time member of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and Obstetrics and Gynaecology offered two bits of advice. "Never take a job in which you don't have a clear vision and never make a decision before you understand everything."
Hodder warned people to avoid the jadedness that can sometimes set in among employees. "Work is difficult when cynicism is present," she said. "We must retain a certain innocence, but we must also have the courage to complain when things aren't right."
Later, Robaire suggested that one of the problems in universities is that people are often working at jobs they are not suited for. "Because of lack of funding, sometimes professors are asked to be administrators. Ideally, the support personnel must set the stage and create the infrastructure. Once that is in place, the power of the university lies in its teachers."
The session was wrapped up deftly by Mintzberg, who reminded the assembly that the four key elements for any well-functioning university are talent, respect, partnership and knowledge. "There are always problems," he admitted, "but the spirit in this room is exactly what we're looking for."
In the end, the lively panel was just one feather in the cap of CACPUQ organizers. Bob Stanley, who chaired the organization committee, says "We were bowled over by the response of participants, especially those people from other schools." With over 300 people, it was the largest ever CACPUQ, the first to be held during the school semester and the first to offer simultaneous translation for participants. "People keep telling us what a first-class job we did. I really think we raised the bar for future conferences."