Alan Shepard named as Western University’s next president

Alan Shepard has been named as Western University's 11th president, taking over the post from Amit Chakma effective July 1, 2019 . Western University

Dr. Alan Shepard will serve as Western University’s next president and vice-chancellor, officials with the school’s Board of Governors announced Thursday.

The unveiling caps a near-yearlong search for a successor to Amit Chakma, who has served in the role since 2009 and who announced last year he would not seek a third term.

The American-born Shepard will assume the new position following two terms as president and vice-chancellor of Montreal’s Concordia University.

Prior to that, Shepard was provost and vice-president academic at Ryerson Unversity in Toronto from 2007 until 2012, and associate vice-president academic at Guelph University from 2005 until 2007.

His other leadership roles include stints as the chair of the Department of English at Texas Christian University from 1998 until 2002, and board chair of the Canada Research Knowledge Network, a role he assumed in 2016. He has also served on the board of the Stratford Festival from 2012 until 2018.

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According to Western, Shepard earned a PhD in English from the University of Virginia and has authored or edited several works focusing on early modern England, early modern literature and science, and modern theatre.

“In Alan, we have discovered a clear-eyed, innovative, forward-looking thinker with a belief in collaborative leadership and open communications,” said board chair Paul Jenkins in a statement.

“Fair. Passionate. Empathetic. He brings an impressive level of humility and humanity to the job. He is authentic as a leader, as an educator and as a person.”

Born in Iowa, Shepard is a dual-citizen and has lived in Canada permanently since 2002.

He is the parent of two children with his partner Stephen Powell, an associate professor at the University of Guelph’s School of English and Theatre Studies. Shepard and Powell co-edited a book of essays titled “Fantasies of Troy: Classical Tales and the Social Imaginary in Medieval and Early Modern Europe,” in 2004.

Shepard will take over as Western president and vice-chancellor effective July 1, 2019, when Amit Chakma’s second term comes to an end.

Chakma’s tenure as president has been successful on many fronts.

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The university more than double its endowment and quadruple enrollment of international students, more women were appointed to senior leadership roles, and Western adopted its first Indigenous Strategic Plan.

When he first announced in November 2017 that he would not be seeking a third term, university officials also highlighted that 17 major capital projects at Western occurred under his presidency, including the construction of 11 new buildings.

However, his time in the role has not been without controversy, including a “double dip” pay scandal in 2015.

At that time, the Sunshine List revealed he had received nearly $1 million in 2014 as a result of working through a scheduled sabbatical.

Chakma later apologized and announced he would voluntarily return half of his 2014 salary — the portion that came in lieu of him not taking an administrative leave. Despite the assurance of repayment, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association expressed non-confidence against Chakma and Chirag Shah, the then-head of Western’s board of governors.

In September 2015, an independent report into the incident found Shah did not receive approval from an executive committee responsible for presidential pay when Chakma’s contract was amended, allowing the president to enhance his pension and double his income to $967,000 in 2014. Shah also didn’t inform other board members of the change.

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Shah stepped down from his post in December 2015 upon his term’s completion. Chakma redirected his 2015 salary to repay the money and eventually repaid it in full with interest, according to university officials.

A more recent controversy for the university has been unsanctioned gatherings for “FOCO” or Fake Homecoming, first organized in protest of the school moving it’s official homecoming weekend from late September to late October.

In 2018, the third-ever “fake homecoming” drew an estimated 20,000 students onto Broughdale Avenue, and police service board members didn’t mince their words for Western University when the massive party came up during their October 18 meeting.

At the time, board chair Mo Salih called Western administration’s lack of response a “disappointment.”

Western actually first moved its official homecoming weekend to mid-October, when the weather is colder and students are busy with mid-term exams, in hopes of lessening student partying.

While he would not comment directly on Fake Homecoming during Thursday’s announcement, Shepard said that engaging students in the “intellectual mission” of the university may be helpful.

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“You might be less inclined to go partying because you have kind of a higher purpose for why you’re there,” said Shepard.

“These things are not easily solved.”

Former leaders

Shepard will serve as Western University’s 11th president. Chakma was tenth and before him was Paul Davenport who was president of the University of Alberta before becoming Western’s ninth president from 1994-2009.

Western’s eighth president, Knud George Pedersen, was president of the University of British Columbia before he was president of Western from 1985-1994.

Before him was Alan Adlington, who was acting president from 1984-1985 following his predecessor, George Connell’s departure. Connell, from Saskatoon, was Western’s sixth president and his tenure lasted from 1977-1984.

According to the Office of the President, David Williams, who served as an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, was president from 1967-1977. George Hall was president from 1947-1967, after serving as Western’s Dean of Medicine starting in 1945.

William Fox was president from 1927-1947, arriving in London from Princeton University.

The Reverend Edward Braithwraite was dean from 1914-1919 and following his sudden departure, three deans ruled the school without any president in place until Fox’s appointment in 1927.

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Western University’s first president was Nathaniel James, who came to the school from Germany’s Halle University. While offered positions at other universities, including one offering more than three times his salary at Western, he remained committed to establishing Western.

This story will be updated.

– With files from Global News Radio 980 CFPL’s Matthew Trevithick and Jacquelyn LeBel.

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