New Vice President Academic and Dean Carol Ann MacGregor’s Path to SJU and What Lies Ahead
Throughout my life I have benefitted from the work and genuine care of great educators. This began at Sacred Heart elementary school in Batawa, Ontario and continued at St. Paul Catholic Secondary School in Trenton, Ontario. At Queen’s University, I spent my first year at the Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, UK. At “the Castle” I was able to visit important historical sites after reading about them in class and to immerse myself in a cultural context very different from the one I grew up in. I have become a champion of these types of “experiential learning” opportunities in my career as both a professor and administrator. It was a moment of serendipity to discover that SJU has its own connection to Herstmonceux through its Digital Research in Arts and Graphical Environmental Networks Laboratory (DRAGEN Lab).
A Changed Trajectory, A Heart for Mentoring Students
When I returned to Kingston for my upper years of undergraduate studies in Political Studies and History, I had a number of faculty members who saw something in me and who went above and beyond to support me in a number of pursuits. These included writing an undergraduate thesis using data to examine religion and electoral behavior in Canada; taking graduate level seminars in History (including one where the faculty member gave each student a personalized exam!); and recommending me to an elite summer program for undergraduates interested in the study of religion hosted at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
I was selected for the Notre Dame program between my third and fourth years of university and it truly changed the trajectory of my life. I was placed in a Sociology seminar with Robert (Bob) Wuthnow, a professor at Princeton University, who would go on to be my PhD dissertation advisor. Bob is known as a wonderful mentor and from the beginning he encouraged me to consider graduate school in Sociology. I had never taken a Sociology class before that nor a standardized admissions test, so I opted to do an MA in Sociology at McGill University in Montreal, while I worked on a strong application to the program at Princeton. At McGill, I benefited tremendously from the opportunity to be a Research Assistant on several major projects.
The privileges and intellectual opportunities that came with completing my PhD in Sociology at Princeton are an experience that borders on indescribable. Ultimately, my time at Princeton set me up well to get a job at Loyola University New Orleans where I started two weeks after defending my dissertation.
These cumulative experiences of faculty taking an active interest in my interests and giving me concrete opportunities to practice research are part of why I have published articles with my own students, and particularly enjoy working with students on their research in capstones, theses, and independent studies. As an administrator, I now seek to find ways to support colleagues who also have a heart for mentoring students in this way.
The Transformative Power of Philanthropy, Mission
One of the key lessons for me, is the tremendous power that philanthropy has to power transformative experiences for students. My Princeton education was free to me made possible, not primarily through public funding, but through Princeton’s endowment which has been funded over hundreds of years by generous alumni paying it forward.
Also, Loyola New Orleans introduced me to the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm and what the Jesuits call cura personalis or “care for the whole person” and fostered my passion for working in and for smaller mission driven institutions. As Vice Provost my portfolio of opportunities there included the Honors Program, the Student Success Center, Institutional Research, Accreditation, New Program Development, and Summer School Operations. I also had the opportunity to lead the creation of a signature January Term focused on courses that spoke to key questions of equity, diversity, and inclusion. This new two-week term was free to students and was well received enough that the institution is running the second iteration this year.
My experiences and my commitment to the mission of the university and recognition of the important role of philanthropy in it, will impact my work at SJU. I look forward to finding ways to translate some of my experiences into new initiatives that make sense in my new context here at SJU.
How has the pandemic transformed academics in general and at SJU?
Postsecondary education has a reputation amongst folks coming from other industries for being slow to change and respond to the times. I think the way in which faculty and staff mobilized to reinvent the ways they do their work in support of students in March 2020, and further to the pandemic, highlight that this is not the case.
I believe strongly that universities are “learning organizations” who, like individuals, can grow and improve. There are practices adopted during this time that an assessment and evaluation process might lead us to keep. For example, we have heard from students that they like “lecture capture” videos that allow them to go back and review material instead of trying to catch everything in the moment. We have also heard that online course options expanded flexibility for non-traditional students and others trying to manage employment and education. As we hopefully move into a place where people have the time and space to transition from surviving mode to reflection, planning, and dreaming, we will be having conversations about what formats work best to serve our students.
One key thing that those of us who work in universities will have to be ready for is the numerous and different high school experiences that first-year students will have had prior to our welcoming them to our campus, compared to those who have come before them. Our mission of caring for students as whole people will become that much more significant.
What do you consider to be critical priorities for the university’s new Academic Plan?
I am grateful to have been given the grace by President Meehan to not rush the creation of a new Academic Plan process or to just treat it as a box to be checked off. Right now, I am focused on two things. The first is making sure we do a proper “closing” of the last Academic Plan by celebrating what was achieved, recording what was not achieved and documenting why, and making note of the threads that deserve to be carried forward into the next plan. This is a great way for me to get to know the institution and to begin to engage key stakeholders.
My second focus is thinking very carefully about designing the process for the next plan. It is far too easy to create a sort of theatre of good management by having workgroups, taskforces, reports etc. where nominally people are involved but where, in practice, the hallway talk reveals there is little confidence that it matters or will positively impact day- to-day life.
I want to lead a process that honors individual areas of expertise, draws on data and best practices across sectors, and ensures that it is not just the loudest voices in the room that get heard. Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking* has shaped my thinking on this.
In the end, I hope the process will lead to a final Academic Plan that addresses unmet student, faculty/staff, and community needs and that grounds our collective work at the university in creating a more just world. As the process takes shape, I anticipate that the commitments in the university’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion plan and ongoing work in support of Indigenization beginning with truth and reconciliation will be front and centre.
*Crown Publishing Group, 2012
PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: SJU’s new Vice President Academic and Dean, Carol Ann MacGregor (front, centre) is working on a new Academic Plan that addresses unmet student, faculty/staff, and community needs at the university. The collaborative project will be completed with the support of faculty in all academic departments and programs, including current chairs/program directors shown in this photo taken in the Academic Staff Association reading room in SJU's library. From left, Scott Kline, Department of Religious Studies; Chad Wriglesworth, Department of English; Associate Dean, Veronica Austen; Andrew Stumpf, Master of Catholic Thought Program; and Jane Nicholas, Department of History. Other chairs/directors absent from photo include, Steven Bednarski, Medieval Studies Program; Susan Brophy, Department of Sociology and Legal Studies; John Rempel, Department of Psychology and Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies; and Bruno Tremblay, Department of Italian and French Studies and Department of Philosophy.
In 2022, MacGregor will also be working with incoming chairs/directors Cristina Vanin, Department of Religious Studies and Master of Catholic Thought Program; Denise Whitehead, Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies; and David Williams, Department of English.
Photographer: Bryn Gladding Photography