Convocation Report, 2005 – Introduction & Installation of the President, Thursday, June 9

Convocation Report, 2005 – Introduction & Installation of the President, Thursday, June 9

The Voice Magazine’s coverage of Convocation 2005 continues with reports from the grounds and more photos. Keep watching next week as our coverage continues…

This year marked a significant change in the structure of the yearly Convocation at Athabasca. Each year the number of graduates has increased, and this year, Athabasca University’s 28th convocation, we have over 1096 graduates! Almost 400 decided to attend the ceremony in Athabasca, accompanied by some 1400 family and friends. The university realized that two days would no longer be sufficient to accommodate these large numbers, and made the decision to add a third convocation day.

Not only was the ceremony extended to three full days, the graduates were also divided differently. In previous years, master’s degrees were awarded one day, undergraduate degrees the next. This year undergraduate and graduate degrees were blended, following a somewhat logical division.

Friday was science day, including Master of Health Studies (MHS), Master of Nursing (MN), Master of Science – Information Systems (MScIS), Bachelor of Nursing (BN), Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Bachelor of Science in Computing and Information Systems (BScIS). Saturday was all business – with the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Bachelor of Administration (BAdmin), Bachelor of Commerce (BComm), Bachelor of Management (BMgmt), and Bachelor of Health Administration (BHAdmin) degrees awarded. Thursday was everything else; the Master of Distance Education (MDE), Master of Arts and Integrated Studies (MAIS), Master of Counselling (MC), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) Applied Studies, Bachelor of General Studies (BGS) Arts & Science, and Bachelor of Professional Arts (BPA).

The combination created an interesting atmosphere, giving rise to many comments about work-related personality types. There was an overabundance of suits & ties on Saturday’s business day, and the atmosphere was one of efficiency and order. Friday’s program of nurses was predominantly female, the post-convocation university grounds becoming a sea of photo-op group hugs. One former member of Governing Council commented to me that if you were going to get sick, Friday at Athabasca was the day to do it – you were surrounded by nurses! While I initially thought nursing and information systems degrees didn’t have much in common, some of the grad bios suggested otherwise. One of the nursing grads commented that at times she found she was learning more about computers than nursing. Another started out her studies as a nurse, but found computing to be much more interesting and switched her major to information systems! The nursing graduates also brought another dynamic to the mix, as many of them had completed their degree primarily through the classroom collaboration program with Mount Royal College in Calgary.

The blending of graduate and undergraduate degrees also provided a unique opportunity for undergrads to get a sense of what may lie ahead for them with master’s studies, and to see what kinds of jobs their degree may open to them. It also provided a chance for professionals to meet on a very different plane, united by a common university experience across countries, rather than being separated by educational level.

A very special event marked Thursday’s convocation – the installation of Athabasca University’s sixth President – Dr. Frits Pannekoek. After the graduands, the platform party, governing council and the academics had all entered the tent, and after O Canada was sung, the first order of the day was the ceremony to install Frits Pannekoek as president. Dr. Pannekoek stood in thoughtful silence as Mr. David Burnett, chair of AUGC, introduced him. He then raised his right hand as David spoke the words, “do you, Frits Pannekoek, swear that you will, to the best of your skill and ability, truly and faithfully carry out the several duties and powers of the President of Athabasca University, without fear or favour, so help you God?”

Dr. Pannekoek replied, “I do”, then David Burnett addressed Governing Council to advise that Dr. Pannekoek had sworn to accept the duties and responsibilities of the office of President. Burnett again turned to Dr. Pannekoek, stating that as chair of AUGC, “I hereby install you as President of Athabasca University, with all the powers and responsibilities pertaining to this office.” It was a solemn, formal moment that was perfectly appropriate to the ceremony, as it mirrored the petition the graduands themselves would receive shortly. At this point, Dr. Pannekoek was robed with the official garments of the President. He then gave the installation address, a speech that he would repeat each day of convocation before a new group of graduands.

Dr. Pannekoek spoke of the years of dedication and struggle it had taken for the grads to make it here and commented on AU’s different tradition – the fact that graduands were seated on stage, with the faculty in the audience, was a clear testimony to the student-centred nature of the university, since the reverse is the case in most other universities. Although I found myself wondering how it must feel for him to speak these words, having never before attended a convocation ceremony at AU, it was impossible not to notice his obvious pride and excitement at being part of this very special university. He commented that it was “an exciting time to be President of the fastest-growing, most dynamic, online and open university – Canada’s university of the future.”

The installation was attended by several representatives from other universities – including Dr. Ron Bond, Provost and Vice-President Academic from the University of Calgary, Dr. Carl Amrhein, Vice-President Academic and Provost, University of Alberta, Dr. Susan May, Associate VPA from Grant MacEwan Community College, and Dr. Alan MacDonald from Dalhousie University. I was later advised that it is not common practice for universities to send representatives to a president installation, so this is really a mark of the cameraderie and respect the other universities in Alberta have for AU. Indeed, Dr. Amrhein commented on the high value the University of Alberta places on the collaborative relationship of Campus Alberta. Many of Dr. Pannekoek’s Calgary colleagues also travelled to Athabasca to cheer him on in his new appointment. It was interesting to hear from Dr. Ron Bond, as Dr. Pannekoek worked directly under him at the University of Calgary. In his greetings from the University of Calgary, Dr. Bond commented that Frits’s interests are an excellent match for the mandate of AU. He said that during the time he was ostensibly Dr. Pannekoek’s “boss”, it was “sometimes difficult to ascertain who reported to who,” adding the warning, “Frits is a subtle man.” This brought laughter from the crowd, but it certainly enhanced the positive impression I have already received from our new President, as he appears to be someone who knows how to get things done. Dr. Bond concluded by expressing a hope that the relationship between the University of Calgary and Athabasca University will be strengthened. Dr. Susan May rounded out the collegial greetings by expressing a great admiration for the work of AU, stating that AU is a “great friend of Grant MacEwan College.”

Official greetings from the Government of Alberta and Minister of Advanced Education David Hancock came from Dr. Bill Byrne, Deputy Minister of Alberta Advanced Education, and Julian Nowicky, Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission Chairman. I couldn’t help but see the humour in having a representative from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor commission on hand, given that sometimes the stress of trying to study at a distance can drive you to drink! Dr. Byrne, of course, has a very special connection to Athabasca University through his cousin, Tim Byrne, first president of Athabasca University, whose foresight and dedication to distance education led to the creation of Athabasca University as we know it today.

Dr. Byrne reminisced a bit about Tim Byrne, noting that he and Tim grew up together in a remote community in Warspite, Alberta. Tim’s thirst for knowledge was enhanced by an understanding of the difficulties faced by people in remote communities to attend school, and he embarked on a dedicated career as an educator, ending up as a deputy minister of education. Bill Byrne said his attendance at AU convocation was extremely gratifying, remarking that Tim would be very proud. He concluded by stating to Dr. Pannekoek that as a “family stakeholder” he would be “watching him very carefully” prompting laughter and sustained applause from the audience.

Some time ago, at my request, Dr. Pannekoek had agreed to be interviewed for The Voice. We managed to get together in his office early Thursday morning before Convocation began. This interview, along with more convocation reports & interviews, will appear in the next few issues of the Voice – so keep reading!