Dear Sheridan Community,

The start of a new year is a time to remember the past, be grateful for the present and envision an even better future.  In this spirit of reflection, I would like to share my new year’s thoughts with you.  While somewhat lengthy, I hope that you will take the time to read what I’ve shared so that it may fuel our future conversations together.

Remember the Past:  Over the past 50 years, Sheridan has grown from two, original campus sites (Brampton and Mississauga) with under 500 students, 30+ teachers and 20 programs into a highly esteemed college occupying four campuses with more than 23,000 full-time students, 130 programs and 3,640 full-time and non-full-time employees.  Under the leadership of six presidents, we have blossomed into the fifth largest college in Ontario, operating in three vibrant and growing communities.

So far in the 21st Century, we 

  • have been granted the right to grant bachelor’s degrees (2002), currently offering 20 stand-alone Sheridan baccalaureate programs, five joint or collaborative degrees with UTM, York and Brock, and have another eight honours degrees in development or at various stages of Ministerial review and approval;
  • were renamed Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning (2003), receiving the “ITAL” designation along with four other colleges (Conestoga, George Brown, Humber, Seneca);
  • founded Polytechnics Canada (2003) along with seven other Canadian colleges/institutes;
  • opened the H Wing (2007) and J Wing (2009) at Davis Campus, supporting applied health and community studies education
  • launched our journey to “be the top ranked teaching-oriented undergraduate university in Canada dedicated to the student experience and committed to the preparation of job-ready graduates who will contribute to our cultural and socio-economic future and who will be eligible for graduate studies.” (2011);
  • completed a Self-Study against the membership standards/criteria for Universities Canada- (2015);
  • opened the Hazel McCallion Campus (2009) and its extension (2017);
  • constructed the new Skilled Trades Centre at Davis to be officially opened in the Summer of 2017; and
  • substantially increased our applied research (SRCA) activity.

We are an institution on the move with a proud history, tremendous growth, and renown for the quality and creativity of what we do and what we have become.

Be Grateful for the Present:  Sheridan is distinguished for its wonderful creative energy, commitment to quality and dedication to student success.  We have longstanding, productive, meaningful relationships with our workplace partners.  The design and delivery of our programs are innovative, characterized by rigor, experiential learning, collaboration, creativity, and relevance.  Our graduates are known for the quality of what they do in their respective professional settings.  Our facilities reflect our academic program and service standards.  We are committed to the welfare of our students and our employees and will continue to improve our performance.  We see ourselves as thought leaders and innovation catalysts serving the pressing needs for economic sustainability and high quality lives for our students and our society.  We make a difference when we come to work at Sheridan.  I am very confident that with our expertise in creativity and innovation, our focus on our people, and commitment to quality education we can continue to make our community a better place in which to work, learn and thrive.

Envision an Even Better Future:  Remember those ‘building blocks’ that were distributed to you at the Welcome Back Breakfast this past August? They fit together in an infinite number of configurations but the base always remains the same, and that base is the current strength of Sheridan. As I discussed at the Welcome Back Breakfast, creating an even better future starts with building on our established strengths and values, respecting the essence of what makes Sheridan great, and upholding our commitment to quality. 

When are we going to become a university?  I have been asked this question frequently since becoming Sheridan’s president.  Our evolution is an ongoing journey and this metaphor aptly describes our progress from being great to growing even greater. 

As with many of life’s journeys it is difficult to project an exact date when we might reach our destination as a university – the reality and timing are political decisions that will be made by the Province.  What I do know is that we at Sheridan control our destiny with our ongoing commitment to:

  • enhancing the quality of every aspect of our work within increasingly challenging economic realities;
  • focusing on our students and the long-term contributions that our programs and their graduates make to society;
  • ensuring that all of our employees, with their varied levels of academic credentials, continue to fit into Sheridan’s future; and 
  • leveraging every opportunity to ensure our long-term sustainability and to moving Sheridan forward as a premier postsecondary institution.

The Power of Community:  Before I came to Sheridan in 2008, I served as the Vice President Academic at The Michener Institute for seven years after 23 years of service at Centennial College.  Michener was funded through the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care; it was neither a part of the college nor university sectors and was ultimately merged within the University Health Network as a training conduit for allied health professionals.  What I learned at Michener was that it is always better to travel in good company rather than alone.  Survival and growth are dependent on the strength of institutional allies within the post-secondary world.  It is always healthier to be part of a collective than to fly solo.

I am sharing this story because I do not believe that it is in Sheridan’s best interests to be an institution with no allies or like-minded travelling companions.  Today we are at risk of sharing Michener’s isolation, whereas travelling in good company brings strength and sustainability.

A Possible Next Leg to our Journey:  For the past 50 years, the Ontario post-secondary education sectors (colleges and universities) have been evolving largely as a result of the political agenda to democratize access to higher education.  The large research-intensive universities were driven by the need to generate and disseminate knowledge.   Smaller community-centred universities emerged to ensure access to predominantly undergraduate liberal arts and science programming.  The colleges originally were founded to serve the niche of students who historically could not access post-secondary education. 

Times have changed.  Some colleges have pursued degree granting opportunities (together, Humber and Sheridan offer half of the degrees granted by Ontario colleges) and have significantly grown their applied research capacities.  Sheridan is very strong in this area and continues to grow.  Work integrated and experiential learning are part of our DNA as are partnerships with the work world via placements, cooperative education, internships, clinical education and engagement of our Professional Advisory Councils. On the post-secondary education continuum, there has been a blurring of the lines between colleges and universities as some colleges have become more engaged in applied research and degree granting and some universities have become more focused on work integrated learning.

In 2017, I believe Ontario’s post-secondary ecosystem has evolved sufficiently for us to envision a third sector – that of the Polytechnics.  Given Sheridan’s leadership in the formation of Polytechnics Canada, we are ideally situated to leverage this potential.  Polytechnic institutions can bridge the historical divide between colleges and universities, serve as economic catalysts for innovation and economic/social development via applied research and the preparation of job-ready, future-proofed graduates, and offer a full spectrum of credentials from skilled trades to degrees with seamless opportunities for pathways to meet the needs of our learners. 

Polytechnic Education combines the practical approach of a college education and the depth of student learning usually associated with university programs (according to Polytechnics Canada).  This comprehensive model provides a seamless transition from education to employment with the hallmark of experiential learning – something we’ve always known and embraced and something that is now deemed a critical element for all education sectors in Ontario (according to a 2016 report by The Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel). When Sheridan’s Board of Governors articulated our vision to become a unique, undergraduate teaching university, the hallmarks outlined for Sheridan were characteristic of a polytechnic, though this term was not popular politically nor used at the time.  More about what defines a polytechnic can be found at www.macleans.ca/education/university-or-college-polytechnics-fall-somewhere-in-between/.

I believe that in our 50th anniversary year, there is an opportunity for a small number of colleges in Ontario to work together to create this new Polytechnic sector for Ontario.  The Polytechnics could remain part of Colleges Ontario ensuring continuity of collective bargaining, and pensions and benefits.  The Polytechnics could leverage the strength of collaboration to address the compelling needs of the Province of Ontario’s economy and contribute to a learned and skilled population.  Sheridan should be part of this movement.  This is a natural and logical next step in Sheridan’s evolution.  It resonates with who we are and what we value.

Universities Canada Membership:  We can and will continue with our plan to apply for Universities Canada membership to validate the quality of education that Sheridan provides.  We shall proceed with this application when we are ready to do so successfully – as soon as December 2017.  In the meantime, we shall continue to improve what we do and how we do it.  Each leg of our journey must and will build on the strengths of our past while establishing the foundation for our future.  We shall continue to chart each step of our journey with intention and care.

Engagement for our Future:  The strength of our institution is defined by the talents, knowledge and experience that each one of us bring to our learning community.  I welcome your thoughts on the path that I have outlined for 2017. 

Several open forums are planned starting later this month to allow us to discuss our journey collectively:

  • The 1st forum will be at the Trafalgar Rd. Campus in the President’s Boardroom on Tuesday, January 24th in the afternoon
  • The 2nd forum will be at the Hazel McCallion Campus in the President’s Boardroom on Wednesday, February 22nd in the morning
  • The 3rd forum will be at the Davis Campus on Tuesday, March 21st , 2017 in the morning
  • Exact times will be confirmed shortly

I have no doubt that the year ahead will be an exciting one for Sheridan. 
 Happy New Year!

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