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Diversity biggest ‘game-changer’: U of R president looks back over past decade

University of Regina President Vianne Timmons reflects on the past decade living in Saskatchewan and what she see for its future.
University of Regina President Vianne Timmons reflects on the past decade living in Saskatchewan and what she see for its future. Mark Taylor / The Canadian Press

Vianne Timmons has been the president and vice-chancellor at the University of Regina since 2008.

Earlier this month, Timmons announced she would be leaving the U of R as of April 1, 2020.

READ MORE: University of Regina’s 7th president resigns to pursue new opportunity

She’s taken the role of president at Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, the province where which she grew up.

Timmons took time to answer 10 questions by Global News, reflecting on the past decade, her time at the U of R and what’s to come.

The following are her answers in a Q&A format.

What were you doing in 2010?

As the clock turned over to 2010, I was in the middle of my second year as president of the University of Regina.

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How were you hoping things might shape up in Saskatchewan over the decade?

In 2010, there was a spring in everybody’s step here. There had been a global economic crisis in 2008, but Saskatchewan seemed to have emerged relatively unscathed and was seen as a “have” province. There was a lot of immigration to the province – both from other parts of Canada, and other parts of the world. We had diversity in our economy, increasing diversity in our communities, and things seemed to be shaping up very well for the new decade.

Were you right, or wrong? If you were wrong, how so?

I think that overall, I was correct, and things shaped up well over the next decade. We have continued to be a more diverse province, and our economy has done reasonably well even in difficult times because of its diversity.

Still, though, I did not anticipate the financial challenges we would begin to face as a province — challenges often driven by world events. Had our economy been able to sustain the growth it was experiencing in 2010, I think we could have made additional progress in a lot of areas as a province and as a university.

What is the single biggest change that has happened in the province over the past 10 years that has been a game-changer?

I think the diversity that is growing in our province is the biggest game-changer. Our provincial motto — ‘From many peoples, strength’ — is a recognition of our past, but it is also almost a self-fulfilling prophecy for the future. At the University of Regina, for example, nearly 20 per cent of our 16,500 students come from other countries — something that was not the case in 2010. Many of those students, from places such as India, China, Nigeria and Mexico, for example, choose to stay in the province and build new lives here. It adds an international element to our province that benefits everyone.

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READ MORE: Sask. government aims to make immigration easier for entrepreneurial international students

As well, more than 13 per cent of our students are Indigenous, bringing traditional ways of knowing into our classrooms and helping to build a society that is committed to reconciliation. That stands to be a real game-changer for the future.

What has been your biggest win?

Being able to call this province home for the past decade has perhaps been my biggest win! But as president of the University of Regina, a few things stand out. Seeing Nigerian students Victoria Ordu and Favour Amadi graduate from our university was wonderful, given everything they went through with their eventual deportation simply for having worked at Wal-Mart while students. Playing a role in helping restore funding to First Nations University of Canada so it could continue operation was important to me as well. Seeing the College Avenue campus revitalization nearly complete is also a big win for our community, and the university’s increased enrollments and progress on Indigenization are also big accomplishments. We have a lot to celebrate from the past decade.

What has been your biggest disappointment or miss? What did you learn from it?

The funding challenges faced by the province have been disappointing, because they have directly had an impact on what we’ve been able to do as a university. The province has done its best to maintain funding levels, but that has not kept pace with expenses, and we have had to work very hard to balance our budgets and maintain services and programs for students. That has necessitated tuition increases over the years, which I wish had not been necessary.

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READ MORE: U of R president challenged by flat provincial funding, potential faculty strike

I have learned a lot from fiscal challenges, though. Every challenge is an opportunity, and in this case, we continued our record of balancing our budget for 25 straight years, which not every university in Canada can match. We found efficiencies in many ways, found ways to diversify our revenue sources, and continued to “punch above our weight” as a university.

What was the biggest story of the last decade in Saskatchewan?

I think that for the province as a whole, the biggest story was probably the Roughriders winning the Grey Cup here at home. I learned pretty quickly when I came here how important the Roughriders are to the fabric of this province — a fabric that is for the most part green, by the way!

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Roughriders win 101st Grey Cup

That Grey Cup victory was a source of pride for the province, and a source of economic spin-off as well. That spin-off extended to our university because in conjunction with the game, Blue Cross made a large donation to the University of Regina.

How has the make-up of the province changed over the last decade? How does this drive your decisions?

The population is far more diverse than ever before in terms of immigration, and there is a better recognition than ever before of what Indigenous people have contributed – and continue contributing — to the province. In terms of the University of Regina, that has helped us develop as an international institution, but one that is firmly rooted here. We have a global reach, but will always have a strong focus on our province and the people who call it home. That concept factors into all of our decisions.

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What’s your biggest hope for Saskatchewan for 2020-2030?

I have three big hopes for Saskatchewan over the next decade: strong economic growth, continued immigration, and continued support for Indigenous communities.

What is the biggest challenge facing Saskatchewan over the next decade?

Things like the economy and the environment will continue to be big challenges and ones that will require a lot of attention. But I think that providing support for Indigenous communities is the biggest challenge for Saskatchewan over the next decade – and an area where Saskatchewan can lead the way in Canada and around the world. There is so much potential here.