Looking Ahead: An Interview with Glendon Principal, Donald Ipperciel

 cr. Donald Ipperciel

cr. Donald Ipperciel

On March 28, 2018, Pro Tem’s Campus Life Editor Reia Tariq had the pleasure of sitting down with our Principal, Donald Ipperciel, to ask him a few questions about the work he has done during his time with us, as well as his plans for the future of Glendon and its student body.

First off, why did you choose Glendon?

Well, I think that Glendon was the perfect fit for me. I used to work at Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta, which is a smaller francophone campus within a much bigger anglophone university, so there was a similar situation here that I was very familiar. I’ve worked in that linguistic minority context so it really was a perfect fit thanks to the bilingualism. I think a French-only or an English-only school wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. I mean, I’m just not attracted to that. I loved the bilingual aspect that Glendon offered. Also, the fact that it was in Toronto. See, I was actually born here, but I left as a young kid, so I didn’t really get to know Toronto and it’s been nice to come back! I do have a connection to the city, but I hadn’t really experienced it, so Toronto was a big draw as well. The liberal arts education that Glendon offers was a major factor also. I’m a philosophy major myself, so that aspect was very appealing as well. Overall, it was just the perfect appointment for me.

What are your hopes for Glendon's future?

There are a lot of changes going on in society right now, especially with regards to A.I., so a lot of the jobs for tomorrow, especially more technical jobs, will be in danger. But there are some things that a robot can never replace. For example, communication skills: knowing how to write properly and present yourself orally. The art of communication is something a machine cannot do properly, that interaction is restricted to humans. Actually, there’s a word for that in the field, it’s called “Graduate Attributes.” It’s all the attributes you want people to acquire once they’ve graduated from university and communication is definitely one of them. It’s also critical thinking and problem solving, even things like building confidence. I see students sometimes, when they come in first year, they’re a little bit in their shell, but by fourth year, they’re different people! They’re confident that they’ll do great. I truly believe that all these competencies will be essential for success in the 21st century. I also want to make sure Glendon is ready for new developments in society. I really want Glendon to be ready for that, so we’ve been working on this Graduate Attribute Project. I think the liberal arts are the best place to develop those skills, but we’re not doing a good job showing it to the world. We need to be able to assess the position of Graduate Attributes and students and show people that we’re ready for this.

How do you want to show Glendon to the world?

It would be in the same vein as what I was mentioning, so we (Glendon) have our three main pillars: bilingualism, liberal arts and a global focus. These are Glendon’s three pillars and what I like to show is that all three converge towards the same exact thing: leadership. Can you imagine a leader in Canada who doesn’t possess all of the graduate attributes I was mentioning earlier? Imagine a leader who can’t communicate or show critical thinking skills toward policies and such. That’s the liberal arts part of it. In Canada, you will need to be either bilingual or even trilingual today, because I mean, quick example, but how many leaders have you seen today who want to reach the top but can’t speak another language? So, I remember during these PC conventions at the federal level and some candidates were just dropped because they couldn’t speak French. And I’m looking at Doug Ford, who is saying “I will be learning French. I want to be the next leader, so I have to learn it,” and I mean, really, when you reach a certain level, you absolutely need more than one language. Globally, it’s much more common to know multiple languages. Being unilingual, that’s typically considered more of a North American attribute: anywhere else in the world, you learn more than one language. So I think that’s something we need to focus on. The idea of leadership, the fact that we are the place to develop leadership and those skills... I think that’s quite important. Right now, the focus is mainly on STEM, and STEM is important, but only one in six jobs require STEM competencies. But, like I mentioned earlier, all the competencies we’re looking at, most of the (leadership) jobs out there will require those skills.

What do you think makes Glendon unique and what is the biggest draw for students to come here?

Well, I think Glendon is not for everyone. What makes Glendon quite unique is its sense of community; there's a strong sense of that at Glendon. I mean, when I shake hands with students graduating during their graduation ceremony, I know about a quarter of the names of the students on that stage. And I don’t teach! It’s just by meeting people, like you now. So when you’re going to be on that stage, I can say “Congratulations Reia,” because we now have that connection. And I’ll also have other Deans on stage with me, and they’re always amazed, like “you know all these names?” Well, yeah, that’s what Glendon is all about. I mean some students I’ll know less than others, like those who mostly commute. But others, I know them by their names. I was at an event yesterday and I nearly knew all the students there. So, that can be appealing to a lot of people, and a turn off to others. I know some students would prefer that big university setting where they can be anonymous, but, like I was mentioning about leadership, here people can notice you, and when people do notice you here, you open the door to a lot of opportunities. So, if you want to be anonymous, you can be, but at the same time you won’t be able to get those same opportunities to develop your leadership skills.

For instance, when I speak to alumni, they always tell me stories about personal connections they had with professors. I know there was a French studies professor who has since retired, but back in the day, he would go with his students to a French restaurant so they could really experience French food and culture. And his students still talk about it, all these years later, because while students might not remember what they talked about in class, they do remember those opportunities they had to connect with a professor on a deeper level. I, too, regularly have students here in my office for supper and events. All these additional opportunities that we can have because we’re so small and so close-knit, I believe that makes a big difference. So, I think that would be our biggest draw, the thing that's most noticeable. At Glendon, you’re not just a number; people know you by name and that’s probably our biggest selling point.

Do you think the strike has had or will have a negative effect on students desire to either come to Glendon or continue their studies here?

Well, I’m quite sure it’s going to have an effect. But, I do hope it won’t be a big impact, because as you’ve seen, the advantages of coming to Glendon quite outway the negative.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Well, yes. I have this document here that highlights when I first came to Glendon, a list of four priorities that I wanted to focus on during my time here. The first was the level of French and the francophone community. When I came here, signs were written in English mostly and maybe some French. Well that's over. I mean, the old Glendon website, there were parts of it that were not bilingual, and the library wasn’t bilingual, so I implemented a policy of asymmetrical bilingualism. Now, in any meeting, we always start with French and when there is an announcement, I always start with French because I’ve seen that if you start with English, then that’s how the conversation will proceed, but if you start with French, then you can always switch back to English, but at least you’ve squeezed in some French. Personally, I always start in French, so people have the opportunity to talk in French. Just to give you an idea, we had some surveys done and they started with French then English and people responded to the French one, rather than the English, while in the past it would have been the opposite. It just goes to show, even little changes can have a big impact.

The second priority I had coming in was technology. Four years ago when I came to Glendon, we were very far from exploiting the possibilities of technology. Now, I would say we are front-runners in emerging technology right now. York comes to us for technology expertise because we’ve implemented technology on the administrative side to make sure that we’re more efficient now. For example, we used to have tasks that would take us three months to do, but we’ve implemented a new technological solution so that those things now take us less than week to complete. Also, on the teaching side, our Moodle site is the most advanced at York: we have plug-ins that they don’t have on the main campus. We also give regular workshops so that we can raise the expertise of our instructors. We’re at another level right now. I’ve always known that technology moves quickly, which is why I hired the biggest expert in Moodle to come to Glendon, and that made a big change. In fact, we’re at a point where we’re starting a Moodle Innovation Centre for the whole university right here at Glendon!

My third point was research. Research funding has increased dramatically at Glendon in the last four years. We did not have a Vice Principal of Research when I came in, and now we have one, so we can concentrate on that specifically, because if you want to have credibility as a university, you have to do well in research and we’ve made some great strides forth in that respect.

The fourth, to keep it brief, was focused on improving our marketing and raising our profile, and to that end I’ve made sure that we are more present in the media and that the media always has a positive eye on Glendon.