Vivek Goel was installed as the University of Waterloo’s seventh President and Vice Chancellor on November 8, 2021. The folowing is the text of his installation address.
Thank you, Adel, Cindy, Jean and Karen. I appreciate the words of welcome from our Chancellor, the Lieutenant-Governor, Paul Davidson and Goldie Hyder.
To the university community and our partners, my colleagues, my friends and family, everyone here this evening and tuning in via livestream: thank you. It is an enormous privilege to be here with you today to be installed as the University of Waterloo’s 7th president and vice-chancellor.
I am humbled and honoured to now carry the mantle previously worn by such an esteemed group of predecessors. The University of Waterloo is still a relatively young institution. In just over six decades it has already changed Canada, and the world, for the better.
The University of Waterloo’s unconventional founding
It has been inspiring to learn about the history of the University of Waterloo and its unconventional founding. This is an institution that was built to serve the needs of the community and to challenge conventions in university education.
Frustrated by the pace of change in Canada in the post-War years, Gerald Hagey and Ira Needles took their experience in industry and founded a university to propel the region, and our nation, forward. They laid the groundwork for one of Waterloo’s core strengths by creating a strong bond between academia, industry, government and business.
The University fostered a spirit of not only generating new ideas through research excellence, but of using those ideas to create something that would have a positive and tangible impact on the world. This entrepreneurial spirit, and the idea that problem-solving must be infused with creativity, is in our DNA today. Being unconventional has meant being curious, taking risks and being prepared to fail and try again. These values and core strengths are what draw bold and creative thinkers to this institution. They are what drew me to Waterloo.
Our opportunity to reimagine postsecondary education
Last year, as COVID-19 spread around the world, I stepped aside from my administrative roles to work full-time in support of Canada’s response. I saw firsthand how academic researchers, along with public and private sector partners, pooled their skills and talents to support our communities.
I also reacquainted myself with colleagues in public health and epidemiology across the country. None of us could of predicted thirty years ago when we were in school that our paths would cross again during a global pandemic.
That is what preparing talent for an uncertain future means.
Emerging from the pandemic, we find ourselves at a crossroad, just as our founders experienced in the post-War era. As we look to build back after so much disruption, universities are and will continue to play an important role in economic recovery and ensuring society is more resilient in the future.
It is tempting to think we are getting "back to normal." But a complete return to "normal" would constitute a missed opportunity for our campuses and for our role in contributing to societal progress.
Reflecting on the lessons learned, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transition that was already underway. The pandemic made clear that there are many ways in which we can be innovative and flexible in our teaching and learning. We also learned that there is no substitute for what happens in a lab or a classroom where hands-on learning is enriched through peers and professors. Or the social experiences that shape our students through clubs, athletics and societies. Working with partners like Communitech, our co-op students helped small businesses make their own pandemic-driven digital transformations. We have witnessed the value of scholars engaging in interdisciplinary partnerships locally and globally. These urgent and collective responses to the pandemic demonstrate our capacity to take meaningful action on major global challenges.
The pandemic also laid bare deep structural issues in society that give way to many inequities. During this health crisis we have realized the risks borne of our connectedness, amplified by globalization. We have exposed deep vulnerabilities in our society further accelerating populism and nationalism.
Like the opportunity that our founders saw in the middle of the last century, now is the time to reimagine postsecondary education and research to cement a foundation upon which each segment of our society and economy can build for generations to come. What many are imagining as a "great reset," then, is a chance for universities, to rethink how we support our local community and how we impact on the world.
Waterloo: University of the future
To be the university of the future, we need to draw on our past. Once again, we must act in unconventional ways to achieve something great in the decades ahead. As a society, we have become rather short-term in our thinking. For example, when we don’t experience disease outbreaks for a period of time, public health funding gets cut. The same applies to areas such as the environment or cyber security. Preventive measures are under-valued in society today.
As an institution of higher learning, it is our job to help the next generation to think about the longer term. To be good citizens in a democratic society.
When we think about COVID-19 vaccines, our progress to date is remarkable. At the start of the pandemic, many experts were predicting four to seven years before a vaccine would be available. In less than two years almost 90 per cent of eligible Canadians have received at least one dose. The speed of our response is built on decades of research-of fundamental science. Sadly, much work remains to be done to bring vaccines to the entire world’s population.
We also need to bring our research strengths to addressing challenges such as this. I am excited by our institution’s unique perspective on such real-world problems, shaped by fundamental and applied research excellence, as well as our deep industry and community partnerships.
We are not only concerned about solving today’s most pressing challenges, but anticipating those to come, developing approaches and solutions to equip ourselves accordingly, and therefore working towards a better future for our world.
We are working deliberately to align our research strengths with important global challenges, such as the climate crisis. We can bring our research strengths to bear on addressing the human dimensions of global challenges, understanding and enhancing human experiences and examining ways to translate knowledge for governance and policy.
We must continue to build on our successes in innovation and entrepreneurship. We need to continue to work to ensure that our entrepreneurs can build enterprises that benefit us all. We also can embed the spirit of innovation in the mindset of our graduates, wherever they go.
As we look forward, we should also think about humanity’s and society’s futures, and help define the world that we want to live in, rather than letting technology shape our future, as has been the case in recent decades.
Developing talent for a complex future
The global pandemic has also transformed industries and changed the future of work. No industry or career pathway will be immune to changes. Canada and the world will need creative people who can navigate this landscape and leverage new knowledge to create sustainable, prosperous communities, for all, not just those with privilege.
The learners we are educating today will shape our global recovery and the future of work for generations. Waterloo is already a global leader in work-integrated learning. We are now working toward becoming a premier provider of learning-integrated work to support those who need to reskill and reimagine their careers. In the future, then, we should be known not just for putting students in the workplace, but bringing education to people in their work as well.
Strengthening sustainable and diverse communities
Earlier, I touched on how the pandemic has also exposed and heightened our attention to pre-existing challenges in our society such as social inequities and injustices, and the global climate crisis. Universities play a critical role in educating our students and the public about these challenges that continue to pervade society. We also have a responsibility to address these issues on our own campuses and in our communities.
I am committed to confronting the history of colonialism that has and continues to challenge so many people today. We must advance our efforts to combat racism and implement recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation commission. We know that diversity of voice and perspective enriches our teaching and research. To truly honour the rich diversity of our community, we must continue to proactively find, prevent and remove barriers, so everyone feels a sense of belonging at this institution, and can achieve their full potential.
We have a real opportunity to address global challenges in ways we haven’t before. In this context, environmental sustainability and addressing the climate crisis remain a key priority for the University of Waterloo, now more than ever. That’s why we must continue to find innovative solutions to achieve our University’s targets for carbon neutrality. And why we must capitalize on climate research across multiple disciplines to ensure sustainable futures for all of humanity.
Our mission to advance learning and knowledge through teaching, scholarship, and service is centered on our students and scholars. And on serving the needs of society.
Our faculty create knowledge and pass it on to our students through innovative teaching.
Our students are our reason for being. They take what they have learned and bring that knowledge to their workplaces, to the businesses they create, and to the communities they live in. They are our leaders of tomorrow.
Our employees work to advance our mission, and are integral to creating a culture of belonging at our institution.
Our industry, community and government partners are important collaborators in helping to solve complex challenges.
Our alumni and supporters invest in us with time, energy and resources. They propel us to make a greater impact in our world.
Our local community continues to be an ongoing source of strength. We continue to work with local partners to maintain our region’s strong social and economic advantage
We all have a part to play in making Waterloo yet again the unconventional university of the future. With a community like ours, we are well on our way.
Bold New Futures
A few years after founding this University, Gerald Hagey, reflected on the progress of the institution and where it might be headed. He said:
"I cannot perceive a time when the universities will not be challenged by new requirements from our society. Equally, I cannot foresee a time when the University of Waterloo will be so hidebound by tradition that it cannot adjust itself to providing education to meet these needs."
Those words from sixty years ago remain so true today. I know we are ready and willing to address future challenges in unconventional ways.
I am grateful for the opportunity to join this community and to continue the legacy of those who came before me.
I am honoured to join you all to build on our unique strengths, and as we take the University of Waterloo into bold new futures.