Neil Fassina’s Speech from Presidential Installation

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Neil Fassina Athabasca University AU Presidential Installation January 11, 2017

Thank you Madame Board Chair.

Madame Board Chair, Minister Schmidt, MLA Piquette, Reeve Splane, Mayor Morril, members of the platform party, distinguished guests, colleagues, family and friends. Thank you so much for being here today.

I stand before you extremely humbled and deeply honored by the responsibility that you have placed upon me as Athabasca University’s 8th president.

As we look to our bright future, I would like to share with you a perspective on the power of knowledge without boundaries.

In their pursuit of excellence, University leaders may find themselves trying to embody a similar perspective to that of Wayne Gretzky when he said “Good hockey players skate to where the puck is. Great hockey players skate to where the puck is going to be.”

That is, they try to meet the needs of today’s learners and at the same time figuring out where to go next.Presidential Installation #1 Neil Fassina Athabasca University

At the core of this perspective is a question that is becoming increasingly difficult to answer; that is, what does the future of adult learning and the progression of science look like?

As we press forward into the digital age, we face an environment in which obsolescence is a daily event in learning technologies, learning resources, and the speed of science just to name a few.

It is becoming incredibly complex to monitor, assess, and integrate these innovations and advancements on so many different fronts.

As the pace of innovation accelerates we risk getting caught up in thinking about how our institutions do what they do and inadvertently drift away from the question of why we do what we do.

In the months that I have spent with the team at Athabasca University it has become clear to me that regardless of what we have done or continue to do, we have never lost sight of why we do it.

There is an immense pride at Athabasca University in our focus on enabling learners to harness the power of knowledge through education so that they and their communities may reach their highest potential.

To borrow the words of Peter Drucker, each and every morning we may ask ourselves whether we are doing things right, but we should not ask ourselves whether we are doing the right thing.

I am reminded of Nelson Mandela who once noted that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Knowledge, enabled through education, fuels individuals and, in turn, their communities, both large and small.

Knowledge invigorates and fosters developments and innovations that create social, environmental, and economic opportunities and stimulates diversity.

At a more humanistic level, knowledge breeds tolerance and critical thought.

Simply put, the power of knowledge cannot be overstated. So much so, that UNESCO has declared education a fundamental human right.

Yet, we need not even leave our own province to find examples of individuals and communities who cannot access and benefit from the knowledge created through a University education.

For some, the pressures of everyday life may limit their time and their ability to leave their home or their employment so that they may study.

For others, their connection to their community and culture would be too large a sacrifice if they had to leave.

In some cases, people’s prior academic record, or lack thereof, may limit their ability to gain entry into what are often highly competitive programs.

Now what if a University was built on the premise of knowledge without boundaries.

A University where knowledge is blind to personal circumstance or background.

A University where learning opportunities are brought to learners allowing them to stay in their communities.

And a University where people need only one academic requirement and that is the passion to learn.

That University is Athabasca University.

Presidential Installation #1 Neil Fassina Athabasca University

Dr. Neil Fassina takes the Oath of Office from Margaret Mrazek, Interim Chair, Board of Governors

For nearly 50 years, we have created access and equality for all learners regardless of background or circumstance.

One need only to talk to a neighbour or a friend to understand the impact we have on learners and their communities.

We must remain focused on that singular goal; to embrace, nurture, and act upon our mission.

As we have done before, we will leave behind the art of the possible and embrace the art of the imagination in meeting the needs of our learners and the communities we serve.

With the stroke of a pen held by Lieutenant Governor Grant MacEwan in 1970 the first Order in Council to create Athabasca University was signed.

This began a culture of creating knowledge solutions with the learner and their community at the center.

At each turn, we have heard the voices of our learners and adapted to their evolving needs.

Many will recall the mid-nineties, when Athabasca University led the way in creating access through online programing.

The foresight of this action can be seen today in the number of institutions doing the same.

If we step back even further, however, we may find that one of our strongest leadership roles began when we came into being; our starting point of distance and asynchronous learning.

Recent trends in work integrated learning across North America point to a push toward bridging the learning environment with the working environment.

A natural extension of this is to not only bridge, but integrate learning into any learner context, whether work, community, or home.

From this perspective, the learner’s environment become a key learning resource within the learner’s education.

While this is an area in which we have been leading for decades, others are now focused on creating similar learning environments.

A leadership role that we still hold strongly is our continued path in embracing the concept of open. This has become a forefront not only for our learners, but also for our place within the pursuit of knowledge through science.

But, today we face an opportune time in our story. A time where we cannot sit still.

We must continue to listen to the voices, the stories, and the needs of our learners and their communities to further our mission through both teaching and research.

As we have done before, we will rise to a leadership role as an architect of the future of accessible adult learning in Alberta.

As Canada’s Open University, we will open doors to the power of knowledge without boundaries for our learners and their communities.

We must have the strength to try new things and the wisdom to stop when they do not work.

We must have the courage to take calculated risks and at the same time acknowledge that small failures are part of learning.

We will come together in the months to come to undertake the planning that will help accelerate us into that future.

In doing so, we must acknowledge that no one of us can do it alone.

In the words of Ovid, “The burden which is well borne becomes light.”

Put differently, we are all partners in the future of Athabasca University and must all have a fingerprint on its future.

I stand before everyone today with ultimate confidence in Athabasca University.

The passion for our mission is palpable and hope is in the air. While I know that hope is not a strategy, it is certainly a fuel.

Without that fuel, very little becomes possible.

Like our collective future, I must acknowledge that the journey that has brought me here today would simply not be possible without the amazing support of a great number of people.

I owe a depth of gratitude to so many, but want to say a special thank you to members of my family who have given me so much.

First, to my parents, Stefa and Wayne, and my brother Mark – thank you for your steadfast support and guidance that you have provided throughout my life.

To my kids, Lilli and Chase, who have had to sacrifice things they may not yet understand to support my career and for them being continuously understanding my long days.

And to my wife, Krista, who has shown immense support, guidance, and friendship. You have always been a centering influence in our journey together.

To all of you who have traveled to Athabasca today or have joined us via live stream, thank you for your support – each of you in your own way.

I am grateful for all that you do for Athabasca University.

In closing, our mission is an incredibly noble calling as the power of knowledge without boundaries cannot be overstated.

The opportunities before us are immense to enable our learners and their communities to reach their highest potential through open and accessible knowledge solutions that place the learner and their community at the centre.

We need only to move forward and take our next step.

Let us make all Albertans carry the pride we have for what we do each and every day.

Thank you. Kinana’skomitina’wa’w.

Watch the entire Installation Ceremony