In an environment of change, McMaster’s Provost is “incredibly optimistic about the future.”

Provost David Wilkinson expressed this idea at the State of the Academy address last Wednesday, Oct. 22. This annual speech is focused on current issues relevant to the running of the university.

Wilkinson began this year’s address seeking to focus on the inevitability of change in the university environment, and the challenges that may come with this.

“We’re certainly going through enormous amounts of system change,” he said of McMaster. He referred specifically to the new budget model and Mosaic, garnering a laugh from the audience of primarily faculty and administrators when he promised that he wouldn’t be talking about the revamped and much-discussed online system.

He also noted that much of this climate of change could be attributed to external factors.

“I want to focus on how the landscape is changing in higher education…thinking about how we are affected by the outside globally and perhaps more importantly in terms of our relationship with the governing climate,” said Wilkinson.

With this in mind, the provost recounted in detail the process the university went through to establish their Strategic Mandate Agreement with the provincial government, a process undertaken by all Ontario universities in a trend towards increased differentiation. While the government’s goal was to encourage each university to shy away from breadth of programming and put significant resources into fewer areas of expertise, Wilkinson claimed the SMA process “certainly didn’t drive us to be narrow.” In McMaster’s SMA document, almost all of the faculties are named explicitly, leading the provost to conclude that the main points the university presented were “deep but incredibly broad.”

However, the impacts of the Ontario policy for differentiation and of federal government policies on higher education remain unclear, but is expected to be “outcome-driven.”

Another focus of the speech and thus for the university in the coming years was growth, both of the student body and of the campus capacity. Wilkinson explained that McMaster is currently operating at 117 percent of capacity, “stuffing students into classrooms.”

McMaster is looking to deal with this reality in part through pursuing a satellite campus. The university already has buildings away from its West Hamilton base (through the downtown Health Campus and Continuing Education Centre), but hopes to expand its presence with the goal of having 10,000 students living and studying downtown in the coming years.

Wilkinson’s closing topic for the address was excellence, which is to be the focus of the Provost’s committee for the coming year. A specific consideration in this broad topic is potentially raising the entrance average across all programs at Mac. He proposed increasing the 75 percent average to an 80.

“It raises the question as to whether or not by raising the bar we actually raise the attractiveness of the institution in all of our programs,” said Wilkinson. “there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that people want to get things that are hard to reach.”

Further details on some of the longer-term ideas for the university are expected to be addressed by President Patrick Deane in his upcoming lecture as part of a series on higher education on Nov. 5.

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