By Daniel Cress
With the retirement of former president Robert Gillett, who had led the college for 17 years a new era has been ushered in with the arrival of Dr. Kent MacDonald. MacDonald’s term officially began Aug. 20 and runs through Aug. 20, 2017.
“I was very excited about the opportunity, you don’t really understand these jobs until you sit in the chair,” said MacDonald.
MacDonald has been with the college in various roles since 1998, working out of the Pembroke campus at first, later moving on to become the dean of the business program, the vice president academic and student services and development.
“There were more than 50 qualified candidates, and at no time did we say we wanted to hire someone from Algonquin,” said former Board of Governors chair Michael Dunlop, who led the search.
“We tried to be very open-minded about that, but during the setting of criteria and interviewing the short list of qualified candidates a favourite became clear to the board, and the board voted unanimously for Kent.”
The choice has proven popular.
“Kent just lives and breathes Algonquin, it was loud and clear that this was a chance to hire a candidate who had external experience, academic experience, and could take a running start because he knew Algonquin so well,” said Dunlop.
As a whole the college community seems to be refreshed by the choice of their new leader and is looking forward expectantly as he begins his term.
“It wasn’t an easy choice, but judging by the standing ovation that Dr. MacDonald got when we announced his name, the press coverage and the standing ovation he received at the Presidents Breakfast, I would say not only was he the wise choice, but he was the popular choice,” said Dunlop.
Previous to his time at Algonquin, MacDonald had experience in both the public and private sector. His educational background is heavily focused on business and education having received a master’s in education from St. Francis Xavier University, an MBA from the University of Ottawa, and a doctorate of Education from the University of Pennsylvania.
MacDonald becomes the seventh president in Algonquin history and will look to build upon a foundation which has been built by his predecessors.
“Now that we have this foundation and the physicality like buildings and technology you need someone who can make that human, make it so students can do something with it, and I think he’s well suited to that,” said Algonquin Students Association President David Corson.
While Gillett is praised for his track record of growth in the college – but showed shortcomings in his communication – MacDonald is already gaining a reputation for his open and personable attitude towards putting students’ issues first says Corson.
“We couldn’t have selected anyone better, and I’m more than confident that Algonquin students will have a place in the forefront with Kent,” said Eric Agyemang, the former student representative on the BOG that selected Macdonald.
“Kent is going to bring a different energy, a commitment to making sure Algonquin becomes the top college in Ontario and Canada, and a different style of leadership.”
“I think that I have had the experience observing and studying what makes a good leader in high performance organizations, and one thing is to consult and listen to other opinions,” said MacDonald. “I think I’ll probably take a more open approach to doing that.”
It’s that kind of perspective that Dunlop felt was needed.
“It’s simply a chance to have a new view in the CEO’s office while at the same time not throwing out our proud tradition.”
This period for Algonquin is about growing into what has been built up and making use of resources to their full potential, says Corson.
“President Gillett led us through a very tough time, and may have distanced himself with the faculty and staff. We’re now at a time where you need someone who’s more people oriented, more team oriented.”
MacDonald has focused much of his life on education and andragogy and takes an approach to managing that is very transparent, he explained to the Times.
“I think it’s wise to consult people and collaborate on decision and in doing so simply listening to students, staff and faculty for the purpose of understanding,” said MacDonald.
“So I’ve made that very clear to my team that I expect us to reach out, and I think that lets us come up with better ideas, better insights, more innovation and better fiscal prudence.”
MacDonald has set three broad goals for his term.
“To continue to enhance the reputation of the college, to continue to be an exemplary place to work, which it is, and, first and foremost, the centrality of teaching and learning in terms of our priorities,” said MacDonald.
The exemplary faculty, committed staff and programming that actually results in employment are keys to attracting students and faculty, especially research scholars says MacDonald.
With learning and teaching at the core of the college’s priorities MacDonald said budget decisions will be made based on direct impacts they will have on students and student services Algonquin provides to help students succeed.
“Ontario continues to be the lowest funded system in the country so we have to be prudent as to how we manage our scarce resources; this college will always, under my administration, table a balanced budget,” said MacDonald.