In a meeting of the minds Monday, two community leaders from Prince George joined the Governor General of Canada for a dialogue about the importance of higher education and the key role of universities.
With his lifelong background as academic and educator, the Rt. Hon. David Johnston was able to draw from his own experience to talk about how a small university in a small city like Waterloo could grow to become one of the country’s leading institutions of learning and research.
He spoke on the need for more First Nations opportunities and the value of international exchange programs for students.
Mayor Lyn Hall and University of Northern B.C. president Daniel Weeks also took part in the panel discussion held at the Prince George Playhouse on Monday.
For the most part, they focussed on Prince George and the role of UNBC, its history, its growth and plans for the future.
Johnston was vice-chancellor and president of University of Waterloo before he became Canada’s 28th Governor General in 2010. He’ studied government and international relations (1963) at Harvard University, obtained his Bachelor of Laws with Honours (1965) at the University of Cambridge and in 1974 was Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. Clearly, universities and higher education are important to Johnston, and he conveyed that when recounting his time at the University of Waterloo.
He described how they had to overcome early obstacles in their way, meet new challenges and learn from their past mistakes. He compared the early years growing the university with the Mennonite practise of barn raising to help out neighbours.
“This university belongs to this community; this community belongs to the university,” Johnston said.
He said when he spoke to graduating students at Waterloo, he told them they were “special stewards” of the university but that “the community owns it as well.”
Weeks pointed to Prince George’s past in defining UNBC’s its present role in our small city.
“If you look at our history,” he said, “the things that made Prince George great 100 years ago are the same things that make it great now – its strategic location in the North. That’s still true today, our location drives our opportunity.”
However, Weeks cautioned we will not be able to live up to our potential without true leadership.
“We have outstanding pioneers,” he said. “but now we have to [have leadership].”
Weeks said resilience, confidence and global connectiveness are key.
Hall noted it’s important to identify all stakeholders.
“We are and will be a forest-driven community and now we are a university community,” he said. “We need to work collectively in these things.”
Hall said being in a “competitive business”, the formula for failure is in not recognizing the need to partner with stakeholders. His view, he said, has been “what’s good for the university is good for the city.”
Weeks noted Hall has started an educational committee and that we will have to work at making Prince George a destination for students.
He noted that youth leadership is alive and well at UNBC –students who had raised funds for free bus rides during the Canada Winter Games decided to give surplus funds to their Winnipeg counterparts for when that city hosts the 2017 Games.
“They did that to help them out,” said Weeks.