Updated: Aug 11
A Maple League Voyage
Chapter 1 – Time
I have made a habit, in fact a full career, out of raising my hand to challenges that I am not perfectly qualified to undertake.
In reflection, I’ve asked myself, if this is a consequence of my privilege, where the stakes of failure have been lowered for people who share my identities. Or it may come from acknowledging that I am reaching an age where most of my family members leave this mortal coil and therefore, I endeavor not to miss out. Some have attributed my aspiration to leadership as a great strength, a proclivity to be leveraged, but it is more likely that it is my perpetual weakness, an unfillable need to feel useful and needed.
Whatever the reason, I have recently embarked on a new role as the Executive Director of the Maple League of Universities, a consortium that represents the interests of four longstanding and prominent universities on the east coast of Canada. Only 18 months into my term as the Director of Online Learning, Graduate and Professional Studies at one of the leagues founding members, St. Francis Xavier University, I raised my hand and, in a decision, no one can quite explain, the selection committee said yes.
In a short period of time, I have made friends at the other three institutions that make up the league. But in the age of the virtual meeting, I confess that my time at each campus has been scarce. The only other campus I have been to is Mount Allison University, where I felt compelled to stop last year on my way home to Antigonish from Moncton. My half hour diversion to Sackville yielded a short review which consisted of; cool pond, excellent coffee shops and friendly campus bookstore … I think I need to dig a little deeper. So, I’ve made a commitment to visits all 4 Maple League universities this summer, and each term thereafter to get a firm sense of what secrets lie within.
Like most trips, you make plans well in advance and the day before embarking you cannot believe the expedition is upon you. Leaving StFX Online at its busiest time of year seemed a little indulgent, but it turns out my team at X was happy to see me go, and a full two days of meetings and tours lay ahead at my first stop, Acadia University.
This was not my first trip to Wolfville. Seventeen years ago, in a grand romantic gesture, I whisked my wife away for a weekend of hiking at Cape Split, and every trip to Scot’s Bay must be punctuated with a stop for provisions at the Independent Grocers on Main Street in Wolfville. I remember we stocked our rental car with food and beverages, looked across the street and up the hill to the university, and simultaneously exclaimed our desire to one day make Nova Scotia our home. It led to a decade and a half of anniversary conversations, wondering if we could trick someone to allow us to work at a small university in Nova Scotia where we could spend summers enjoying the ocean and hiking the parks. And one day it happened!
Laura Robinson, my Teaching and Learning colleague from Acadia, organized my visit and suggested I start with a little time to myself at the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre. Fearful of campus parking regulations, I parked in the most obscure portion of the campus, the bookstore parking lot, hidden behind an out of season food truck, where I felt no campus security official would have the gumption to ticket me for lack of a permit, and off I strolled to my first campus destination.
The Acadia campus is delightfully prepared. I followed a boulevard down the hill and ended up in the centre of campus surrounded by distinctively New England architecture, with quaint red brick buildings punctuated by the handsome white University Hall, home to all things administrative and a regal convocation space that would have you ensconced in century old academic tradition. Acadia’s campus has a gentleness about it and a contemplative nature. Eminently walkable, it is at once spread out and cozy. I headed up the hill to the environmental sciences building, first locating the café and once my chai latte was secured, I turned towards the garden room, a common space which must be seen to be believed. The garden room is a conservatory for the university community and its lavish surrounds complete with well-appointed furniture, an inviting fireplace and sublime lighting makes this elder feel right at home. As I sat enjoying the comforts and keeping up with communication, I was joined by a group of students that claimed a portion of the room to convene. I was eager to see how these students interacted with the room, was it too stately for a full-on post class debrief? Quickly, I had my answer, shoes were kicked off, a four-legged companion snuggled under a table, laptops were opened and a conversation thread that had commenced in a classroom that morning, sprang to life before my eyes. I even got a smile from the incoming group before they settled into their routine. Yes, the space is beautiful but it’s there to be used.
My time in the garden room left me philosophical, perhaps by design and the scene in front of me got me thinking about the age in which we live. All the Maple League schools were founded in the mid nineteenth century in the burgeoning age of modernity, a culmination of thought patterns that endeavored to find the truth and objectively define concepts like art and science. Each institution survived the postmodern phase of skepticism, where ideas needed to be scrutinized and interrogated from a context that was not always beautiful. And as I left the garden room, with students comfortable in the old fashioned yet unafraid of technology and at ease applying transdisciplinary frameworks to contemporary issues, the best descriptor I could come up with is hybridity. Not “hybrid” in the way it is currently used, co-opted by curriculum designers to mean some face-to-face instruction and some online learning as a grand post pandemic learning compromise but something new, a clash of the incompatible whose fusion creates new possibilities. In hybridity there is hope.
My first meeting was down the hill at Godfrey House which required a quick peek at the campus map and a check of the condition of my shoes after a sojourn through Acadia’s botanical gardens as I eyed up the early spring greenery, imagining what it would look like in a months’ time. The Canadian climate and the school year just don’t mesh. In a cruel twist of fate, our grounds are the most beautiful when the students are home for the summer, though they do get a roaring fall term, I’ll give you that. On my way, a quick check of the clock on top of University Hall had me worried about double vision as I could have sworn there were two sevens, later I learned that I was not delirious, instead I was bearing witness to a final prank from the class of ’77 that left their mark, very cute.
As a resident of three countries over the past decade, I have had occasion to attend dozens of campus tours, all the while trying not to ask questions that would make my son or daughter cringe on their visit. After a while the ritual becomes formulaic, campus tours at the Australian National University are fundamentally identical to those at the University of Montana or UBC, I suppose there is comfort in continuity, and I am reminded that systems converge. Still, I enjoy, seeing a university from a prospective student’s purview and I arranged a bit of a secret shopping tour of Acadia. My goal on the tour was to attempt to find the common ground amongst the Maple League institutions in hopes of defining what elements formed the compelling reason for our universities to believe that they could be better together. It is not lost on me that one of the visitors (not me) came to the Acadia welcome centre wearing a StFX hoodie, a treasure purchased the day before on a grand tour of East Coast schools, and perhaps a gauntlet thrown down to Acadia’s admissions team to try and impress. And indeed, the tour is impressive, yes, the KC Irving Centre is on the list, the story of the class of ’77 was told, and all the aspects and programs of the university were highlighted. When asked about the defining aspects of Acadia, our guide pointed to community and friendliness, small class sizes and knowing professors by their name. The guide talked about being intentionally small, but I suppose smallness is relative, is 4000 undergraduates small? - to some that may be large, others may feel it’s tiny, and no doubt at larger universities they point to houses, schools or colleges that create a sense of smallness that transcends scale. But then something happened, and I was instantly reminded of the tours I have taken and witnessed at StFX, and it was being recreated at Acadia. We paused. For a moment we all collectively stopped and gazed, there was no tour coming behind us, no appointment for us to rush to, and the guide began telling the story about a research experience she had during her undergraduate degree. She wasn’t competing against 20,000 students for a spot in the lab, it was there at the moment that she needed it, she paused, and it happened, just like the moment was happening for all of us on the tour halfway up the campus hill in the gathering twilight, looking beyond the town of Wolfville and watching the tidal basin drift back out to sea. I won’t forget that moment, that pause, is it possible that we could imagine an education that lessens the pervasiveness of the clock, that reminds ourselves that competition will wash itself back out to sea and that collaboration is a better lens for learning. Are we trying something more ambitious with the Maple League than we ever imagined, and when the scoundrels from the class of 77 customized the clock, were they foreshadowing.
My last meeting at Acadia was with the Executive Team, where I met, as one group, many of those that I spent the last two days convening with individually. The president of Acadia, Dr. Rickett’s, was sharing his story of friendship and cooperation that coalesced from the pandemic as the Maple League's senior leadership teams planned and triaged as one. Then the moment came for me to say a few words about myself, my journey, and thoughts on a vision for the Maple League, as myself and Juan Carlos Lopez, the Director of the Maple League’s Virtual Teaching and Learning Centre begin our terms. My answer was that my approach is not to create a vision for the Maple League but together I hope to be part of the team that discovers it.
For the return trip to Antigonish, I was encouraged to take the cross-country trek to Truro rather than the massive V shaped motorway that veers south to Bedford, before ascending back to the Trans-Canada highway and home. My visit to Acadia, encouraged me to be less concerned about time and maybe even to be OK with some uncertainty on the route. It’s at these moments winding my way around Nova Scotia’s interior that I truly feel a part of Mi’kma’ki the ancestral territory of the Mi’kmaq people, a place where I have been welcomed and where I feel at home. Just before the highway I paused for a final look at the tidal pools, now a muddy reminder of the passage of the day. Nmu’lte app (See you again).
Chapter 2 - Sharing
Aging is the road to curmudgeon. As the years have advanced, I have developed a series of rants that I call upon with repetition and are appropriately followed by eye rolls. One such topic is air travel and how flights of less than 15 hours are essentially useless in terms of convenience; it’s far better just to drive. Fortunately, with curmudgeon status also comes a dash of hypocrisy, so at the last minute, I found myself on the tarmac avoiding the 11-hour drive to Lennoxville in favour of a quick flight to Montreal and a drive along the Eastern Townships to Bishop’s University.
Montreal is hallowed ground for me, and since I don’t get there enough, I take any opportunity to go back to my old haunts as a graduate student in Education at McGill University. My year at McGill went by too quickly for me to keep it top of mind, yet slowly enough to have a profound impact on my career. For a young man in search of a community, I found it with a group of people who would devote their lives to teaching and learning. One moment that is etched in my recollection is my first day on campus where one of our professors welcomed us, not only to the institution, but to a profession where over the next 40 years we would call amongst our colleagues some of the finest people in the world. Truth.
I just adore Quebec and I confess that the more time I spend there, the more charming it becomes. In the first moments as I try to navigate the traffic at YUL, refresh myself on the French language signage and remember horrific winter drives to teaching placements at Laval Catholic High School, I am a little testy. Yet, within a day a visiting, I am dusting off my misplaced language skills, saying bonjour to the entire province and ordering viande fumee avec poutine at every meal.
I arrived early at Bishop’s University on the most glorious of days, eager for 7 hours of meetings but insufficiently caffeinated. I quickly found the old quad, an area of the university that spills out of the newly renovated Learning Commons and I was transported for a moment to a scene from Chariots of Fire, wondering if I could dash the square in the time between the bells. Given I was in no condition to run around anything, I was grateful to spot a single individual across the quad who looked in purposeful pursuit of his office, and with a loud plaintive call of “Hello! Excuse me! Coffee?” The gentleman excused my lack of tact and replied, “At this hour … how about my office” and off I proceeded to Morris Hall for a coffee meeting with Sterling, the Alumni Relations Coordinator, my new friend, and savior.
Bishop’s University is a delightful interplay of the old and the new. Bounded by a couple of rivers and nestled at the foot of a hill, it has a cloistered feel. Unlike Acadia, Mount Allison or StFX, that literally spill out onto Main Street, Bishop’s has its own place in town, a delightful Lennoxville cottage with handy access to all of Sherbrooke’s amenities. Tradition is strong at Bishop’s, and I did my best to soak it up. I ate at Jerry’s Pizza, checked out the snazzy new athletic facility, and heard from Student Affairs and Advancement on the bevy of mixers, socials and events that have all been part of the lore. Yet, within that context I sensed that something was changing.
If there was a theme in my meetings with administrators and faculty it was students. Every meeting I was in I was struck by people’s consciousness of the challenge of the modern, post pandemic student and what the institution is being called to do in response to new challenges. Today, students are coming to Bishop’s more diverse, more international, and more intentional about what they want out of “their” university experience, so while traditions are lovely, the age of the single unifying experience is waning. This is a complex issue for all campuses, but I felt at Bishop’s they are deliberately moving the institution in an exciting direction.
Taken individually my introduction to Bishop’s was a note taking exercise where I learned about new programs and initiatives but since I had the opportunity to sit in on so many of these meetings back-to-back-to-back, it was easy to see ideas begin to coalesce into a theme. I learned about the Online Learning Technology Consultants Program (OLTC), an example of students helping faculty to redesign digital spaces with the learner in mind. There was an introduction to a graduate program in Knowledge Mobilization, a unique program that is bridging academic research and community partnerships to help meet societal needs. I was introduced to the Bishop’s Leadership retreat which has been redesigned and relaunched post pandemic and is now prompting thoughts on how it could be scaled to an exciting conference in partnership with institutions across the Maple League. Finally, I met with the Director of Experiential Learning, who was brought in to start the program only to discover that service and work integrated learning was already happening across Bishop’s and was indeed such a rich part of the university culture, it created a tremendous platform to imagine exciting new opportunities.
In all these examples, and many more, my most profound takeaway from Bishops was a singular desire amongst the entire community to share.
Looking at their new Learning Commons, where I posted up in the few seconds I had between conversations, it is a room designed to share, and I witnessed several students and staff, using the space for collaboration. I also, needed to get on the Wi-Fi and rather than sort it myself, (typical Gen X’er using young people as tech support) I found an eager and visible IT help desk where a lovely technician provided me with a simple and effective eduroam tutorial, rather than just a password. It is impossible at the modern university to be high touch and not be high tech –it’s an issue that many small universities face, but at Bishop’s I felt they were addressing the right challenge.
It is easy at an institution of higher education for “sharing” to become an aspirational rather than a lived value. The academy and indeed our entire institutions, are set up for us to compete for scarce resources, so cooperation exists in spasms of altruism, it’s not part of the system, but could it be?
A week earlier, I had the occasion to listen to Michael Goldbloom, the retiring Principal of Bishop’s talking about the formation of the Maple League. Like most audacious ideas, it came from a simple premise, what could be achieved if we worked together? Could we share? And as I walked around Bishop’s I saw sharing in every piece of intentional design in every building around campus. I sensed that collaboration was not simply a strategy for Michael, it was an intrinsic value that he attempted to bake into the culture of the institution, and cross institutionally through the Maple League. It gave me a greater sense of mission for my position. Let’s try to prove Michael right.
My last meeting at Bishop’s was a walk and talk with Jessica Riddell, the person that is leaving space for me to embark on this grand voyage, and whose shoes I will have a difficult time filling. Jessica has a sabbatical lined up for next year and I listened carefully to her counsel on my walkabouts. At one moment I asked her how a nice girl from Halifax ends up as a professor of Shakespearian literature at a small university in the Eastern Townships. She described a 20-year journey of self-discovery, she shared with me the trials, tribulations, and joys along the way. She also shared with me the doubts and uncertainty that she continues to have as an educator. I’ve always thought that it is those doubts that make exceptional teachers. My McGill professor was right, you do meet the finest people.
I took my leave of Bishop’s grateful for the visit. It was important for me to learn more about the institution and its challenges. Bishop’s is not in the Maritimes, if has a distinct Quebec feel and it exists in a regulatory environment that requires appreciation. Yet, I cannot stress enough how open the university is to share its great work, its vulnerability, and how proud it is to be part of the Maple League. So many people promised to visit me back in Antigonish, hoping to come down on the occasions of our next football competition, that I felt like I had made fast friends. The next step was to navigate the drive back to Montreal, find the “location de voitures”, and settle myself in with a coffee for the voyage home. Reaching the Starbucks, I paid for my drink and because I was inspired to share, I asked the barista to add on the coffee for the person behind me to my bill, she said “sure, and your name sir?”, “Sterling”, I replied.
Chapter 3 – Higher Purpose
In my last official duty as the Interim Coordinator of the Teaching and Learning Centre at StFX, I did what all good administrators should do, I hosted a party. It was a lovely end of the year celebration and while I had dominion over the microphone, I regaled the group with a seminal story from my childhood when, unbeknownst to me, a generous teacher provided our family with an anonymous gift at a time of need, a Christmas Tree. It took me 20 years before I even realized that the gesture was an act of human kindness and not a happy coincidence. I am notoriously slow on the uptake.
So it was with a warm heart that I headed back out on the road, full of love for teaching and excited to meet Toni Roberts face to face, a colleague from Mount Allison and recent 3M teaching fellow, who I had connected with throughout the year, but had never met in person.
If a land speed record is ever achieved on Canadian soil, I believe it will happen on the flat and lonely expanse of highway 104 between Truro, Nova Scotia and Sackville, New Brunswick. I literally flew down the highway defying every ETA prediction my GPS could throw at me. As it was 7:30 pm Sunday evening and I had planned my meals poorly, I desperately searched for an establishment that was still open in the small town of Sackville. Luckily, I found “Fener’s”, a Turkish establishment. I breached the door just as they were about to close and using my best version of folksy charm I asked, “what’s good?”
The reply, “Everything sir, it’s all good.”
“Terrific, I’ll take the Eggplant!”
It was good! The meal sustained me for the evening, led to a wonderful sleep and an early start for my visit to MtA. Now, let’s get a couple of things out of the way. First off, the “Mount” in Mount Allison is oversold, but I supposed Plateau or Gentle Hill were taken. Secondly, MtA is by far the brownest campus I have ever seen. The sandstone buildings, blend into the landscape ensuring that the greenery and flowers steal the show. As I headed indoors for my first meeting I looked back and thought …” way to commit to a theme”.
I spent the morning learning about the Mount A way, a direction that has brought them to the top of the MacLean’s ranking as the country’s top primarily undergraduate university; an institution that punches well above its weight in 3M awards and Rhodes scholarships. I learned about some of the new programs in the Ron Joyce Centre for Business Studies and its unique partnership with the Moncton Flight School. Over lunch, Toni provided me with some historical context for the institution and confessed a refreshing optimism towards the faculty of the university and its ability to navigate changing times in higher education.
It was these changing times that I was anxious to hear about and fortunately I had the opportunity to spend time with a graduate student in biology who having completed a 4-year degree from MtA, was inspired to continue for a research-based master’s program. In fact, we had a lot in common, we had both lived in Australia and recently spent time in Europe and the U.S.A. She began with a bit of a scripted tour, but I kept tripping her up with questions from left field trying to get the inside story. Undeterred and with an eloquence that belied her years (mine too) she answered honestly and thoughtfully all the while redirecting me to the next program, edifice, or historical fact.
“And now”, she said. “I’m going to give you a bit of an insider’s tour of my lab. I study fish, brook trout to be specific and I’ll show you, our Aqualab.”
I could tell she was so excited to get to her laboratory, she launched into a story about how when she first tried her hand at research, she did not like it at all, but one day, casually after class, a professor chatted with her about her experience and encouraged her to try again with a slightly different focus. This time it stuck, she caught the research bug and has never looked back.
“So”, I asked. “I’ve been noticing in a lot of my reading about Mount Allison, they claim to be a university that focuses on the liberal arts, can you tell me what that means?”
This was the first moment of uneasiness in her voice. Was I really interested in a definition? Did she need to get it right? To her credit, she admitted she wasn’t really sure, and then returned to her brook trout, describing to me issues of salinity, temperature, proteins and reproductive rates.
I asked her what the higher purpose was to her research, and she thoughtfully replied, “Climate Change”. This led us to a wonderful 10-minute conversation on ethics, geography and politics. On the way back we learned more about each other, her partner being a musician, our shared love of theatre and talks of post master’s travel. Halfway back to the Wallace McCain Centre I assured her I could find my way back as I knew her fish were calling, and her chores were delayed. As she receded into the quad and back to her work I was grinning uncontrollably.
I did not have the heart to tell her, that there is a great possibility that her future is not in brook trout. That she will soon leave MtA with a Master of Science degree, but also with an appreciation for the globe and its complex issues, with an openness to art and music, with the ability to construct logical arguments, to speak thoughtfully and clearly on a multitude of topics and to be able to aptly deal with the most incorrigible questioning colleagues.
Furthermore 20 years from now, she may realize that the casual conversation she had with “that professor” wasn’t impromptu at all, it was an intentional redirect towards a passion she was yet to discover. Isn’t this the magic of a “liberal arts” education, the one we provide today whose latent benefits wash over us in mysterious ways only to self-actualize at a moment well past the time to say thank you.
It reminded me of a time when I was working with early childhood educators and puzzling over an exercise in their classroom that seemed somewhat mundane, “Couldn’t it be taught in a flashier more gamified manner”, I offered. What followed was a master class on the purpose of education, the value of meaning and connection. This mundane exercise was the right lesson at the right time, it’s not about obtaining the skill in isolation, it is about the connection, how it leads to the next discovery and how if connects to our fundamental needs.
This is what I discovered at Mount Allison. A place where work is purposeful, where the meaning of liberal arts is not discipline specific, it’s embedded in the fabric, and where the buildings shouldn’t be flashy, they need not distract, they are canvas for what flows around them.
The Maple League is less than a decade old, yet that feeling that I achieved on my visit to Mount Allison had a profound effect on my understanding of the mission. One day, I might be asking a student what it is meant by a Maple League education. Panic will likely set in as if they had not studied for the test. But that feeling I had today, watching a young person squeeze every drop out of life is the right answer.
I thanked all the folks that I met at Mount Allison, and to the ones I’ve missed I left forewarning that I would be back in August. On the way home, I stopped by the Sackville waterfowl park, and convened in nature before joining the 104 Speedway back to Antigonish: thinking of nothing except brook trout and Christmas trees.
Chapter 4 - Place
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to travel back in time to a historical moment, if only to discover, “what were they thinking”. If you will indulge me some poetic license, let’s go back to 1529 at the University of Paris to the first meeting between two young gentlemen, Francisco and Inigo.
I picture a handsome Francisco (Francis) with his feet up on a desk, reading letters by candlelight and deciding which social function he might grace with his presence later in the evening. When in bounces his new roommate, Inigo (who would later become better known as Ignatius), preaching incessantly about love, bravery, and mission; not exactly the wingman Francis had been hoping for. However, over time, with a combination of Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s enthusiasm, and Saint Francis Xavier’s intelligence, they combined to disseminate a model of education whose academic traditions still influence today’s institutions of higher education. Many of these traditions for the better, some problematic, as we try to disentangle from our colonizing past, but the mere scale of the undertaking is noteworthy.
St. Francis Xavier University, founded in 1853, is actually the youngest of the four Maple League Schools, and is located in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. I believe the official pronunciation is “Anna Gonnish”, or “Ann Uh Kinnish”, if you’ve had a few more drinks than prudent at the Candid Brewery. The fact that StFX is closing in (relatively speaking) on a bicentennial is my answer when people state that universities should be run more like businesses, “what business has been around for 180 years?”. It’s also why I like to spend time with Advancement Offices on my travels, especially with people from those departments who have witnessed a generation or two of students, faculty, administrators, and donors. You can change all the players on a baseball team, but you will still be playing baseball. Systems endure.
I also witness that communities are shaped by such institutions and that is the case for all the Maple League schools, but I cannot think of a better example of this metamorphosis in action than in the case of StFX and Antigonish. Every event on the municipal calendar interacts with StFX in some way, and every community activity from the start of the curling season to the highland games is augmented and shaped by the StFX calendar. The politics of the surrounding region are reflected in the conversations within the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, it would not be unusual for the Premier of the province to stop by campus, and the Provincial Minister of Health teaches in our distance nursing program. The artistic schedule is derived from the campus rhythm, the Bauer theatre produces plays for the community, weddings are hosted on StFX property and every piece of visual art that can be purchased around town has an eerie two degrees of separation from campus. The music scene has a distinctly StFX derivation, with ensembles and events enriching the community on a regular basis.
And then there are the X men and women. Varsity sports leave an indelible mark on a small community. As the current days athletes jog through town, flags and pennants guide their way, while alumni from hockey and football teams of the past gather to share stories about how great they used to be. On my first visit to StFX, I noticed how central the football field was to campus. Every day I watch high performance athletes training, while mothers circle the track with strollers and the legend that is Father Stan performing his ritual walk and making everyone’s day brighter just by his presence.
Antigonish is blessed to have access to a regional hospital, St. Martha’s, a facility that is supported by our Rankin School of Nursing, our award-winning programs for Internationally Educated Nurses, programs in Human Kinetics and Nutrition and soon to be further buoyed by our institute for Innovation in Health, an amazing experiment that will advance the cause of rural health care in the province.
I have often been told that if you want something done, give it to the busiest person and it is Richard Isnor, the VP of Research, Graduate and Professional Studies that often bubbles to the top of that list at X. It was Richard that chaired my hiring committee (he’s permitted one mistake) and he gave me my first tour of the university. Richard is a connector, and he sees evidence of how disparate pieces come together, to create concepts bigger than the sum of their parts. In our latest conversation, while he was debriefing on the recently held Atlantic Economic Forum, he was invigorated with the success of the Hive for Feminist Research, an interdisciplinary research group formed in 2013 to increase the visibility and understanding of feminist research at StFX in all its diversity. “Jack - couldn’t ideas like this be extended throughout the Maple League?” …
W.P. Kinsella wrote, “Once you’ve been touched by the land, the wind never blows so cold again, because your love files the edges off it.” I think about that quote often as I ride my bike around Antigonish, try to make my way around the golf course, or see if my favorite table is open at Little Christo’s. StFX is a deeply place based experience. Antigonish is shaped by the love that is injected by annual cohorts of freshman who one day become graduates and X ring recipients. I don’t use the word love casually. I see the relationship between StFX and Antigonish as a torrid and everlasting affair, with a bond that cannot be broken. Like in all relationships there are moments of tension, where we forget that the other party has feelings and their own set of needs, but there is an acknowledgement that our destinies are tied together.
I hope the members of the Maple League community that are still reading these chapters understand that I am not singling out StFX as the only place-based example of education, it’s simply that as a resident here, I can identify interconnections more easily, but I do believe that at all the Maple League Schools this interplay of community and education forms a deeper connection with place. I see this manifest in the commitment to service learning and how impactful experiences in the community are to both students and their adopted home.
As a relative newcomer to the Maritimes, I have been doing a lot of hosting lately, and a visit to Antigonish means a walk through StFX with Uncle Jack, and a surprising revelation from my walk throughs with my young adult children and their partners, is that they always come away a little surprised with the size of StFX.
“Big? what do you mean – didn’t you go to McMaster…!”
“I did but I only went to three buildings, the theatre program was at another campus, the athletic facility seemed a mile away, my apartment was in Mississauga, I spent a lot of time in my car…”
This is why I believe that the Maple League needs to strongly advocate for our position as immersive, place-based exemplars of higher learning in Canada. And while it is easy to gloss over the one or the two, in the Maple League we are four. We are strong and our mission resonates.
I see it’s approaching 5pm and once again I’ll be heading to my bicycle for the short ride home through Antigonish in the evening, passing through all the familiar places on my journey. I know now not to ride close to the Wheel Pizza shop or the enticing smell of fresh bread and tomato sauce entraps me, so I take a detour through the Coady Institute, the organization named after Rev. Dr. Moses Coady a pioneer in adult education and community development, who grew in the spirt of love and friendship an Antigonish movement. Born in one tiny place, it has grown into an international organization that inspires global change leaders to wage justice in their communities throughout the globe. Is it silly for me to imagine that in an afterlife Moses has met Francis and Ignatius? Kindred spirits, whose love of people and deep connection to place changed the trajectory of human development. I imagine they would be proud to witness the work that continues in their names.
The great thing about being an amateur writer is you get to make your own rules, so while ending with a Prologue might see a little askew, why not.
I had a wonderful time visiting the Maple League universities. It has helped me to understand the similarities and differences between the institutions and focused my work as the incoming Executive Director.
The themes I have identified in my travels (Time, Sharing, Higher Purpose and Place) will help to guide my actions. In time, I believe the Maple League will become synonymous with the deeply held values that all its member institutions share.
My approach to the work as the Maple League Executive Director will be one of servant leadership and humility. The league exists to serve and advocate for its members. Each of the league's institutions have ambitious missions and a track record of extraordinary success. The hope for the future exists inside every faculty member honing their craft, every student on the road to self-actualization, and every staff member that decided supporting human development on a beautiful campus was a wonderful place to spend a career.
The Maple League will be a place that can value smallness while gathering its resources to glean the benefits of a large network. It should create new opportunities for students, faculty, and staff. Our aspiration is to have functional systems and processes so that the scarce amount of time that our members have can be maximized. We need to ensure that our messages are seen, heard, and valued.
Finally, there is no reason this can’t be fun. In fact, if it isn’t enjoyable, it is a clear indication we may not be on the right path. So, as I take up this task with a small administrative team prepared to serve and swaths of volunteers ready to engage in our communities of practice, my only hope is that whatever we do we proceed with kindness and compassion. For together, we can be better.