President Amit Chakma's Senate Address


Fellow Senators, faculty colleagues, students, staff, alumni, members of the London community, friends.

I stand before you profoundly humbled by — and deeply sorry for — the events of the past two weeks. And I am grateful for this opportunity to express my deepest regrets and most sincere apologies to you for the disruption the issue of my compensation has caused for our community.

I ask for your forgiveness.

When recruiting students, staff and faculty, Western looks for leaders. Western looks for people whose decisions and actions are guided with the highest regard for what is in the best interests of our institution. People who are capable of listening, and listening with respect.

As a member of the Western community, I must have the good sense, humility, and courage to admit my mistakes, to learn from them, and to take action to move forward in a constructive way.

Recognizing the mistake I made in accepting payment in lieu of administrative leave, I decided last week to repay the University of my own volition. 

It was the right thing to do. I also voluntarily agreed not to receive payment in lieu of administrative leave at the end of my second term.

But what I have heard loud and clear from your feedback is that the issues are not only about the money. The issues at hand are also about the way the University has been run under my leadership. 

I have spent much time and energy away from campus focused on the external business of the University and not enough time engaging with and understanding all that goes on within the lecture halls, labs and offices of this great school.

There are many competing demands on my time and not enough time to do all that needs to be done.

However, the last two weeks have highlighted for me how critically important it is to have more balance in my role as president. 

To rectify this, I will dedicate my attention to internal matters within our academy that will help me begin the process of regaining your trust.

I know that trust and confidence are qualities that must be earned, and I know, too, that I have much work to do.

Starting Monday, I will be going from Faculty to Faculty to engage in a series of town-halls to meet with faculty, staff, and students.

Together, we will have the opportunity to review and reflect upon our priorities — a chance for me to listen to you, and to speak with you about your concerns and our collective aspirations.

I will be seeking informal opportunities to benefit from the thinking and advice of academic colleagues from all Faculties, including Faculty Scholars, Distinguished University Professors, and other faculty members who can provide me with the diverse perspectives of all disciplines.

I will also take concrete steps to engage our staff, and employee group leaders, whose work is so critical to the success of our academic enterprise including Campus Council to hear their concerns and ideas.

I will meet more regularly with student and alumni leaders and provide more opportunities for active discussion.

I will also increase my engagement with the Deans, a process that has already started.

These are just some initial ideas that together we will build on in the next 100 days, so that we can begin implementing them by the start of the next academic term.

I’m open to all ideas, and I want to hear from you.

Another message I have heard clearly is that we need to improve Western’s model of collegial governance.

The issues surrounding my contract have brought into stark reality that the Board, the Senate and our broader campus community do not have a shared understanding of the most constructive ways to conduct the business of the academy. 

We must identify the real problems that keep these two important governance bodies in silos. Then, together, we must find real solutions for breaking down those walls, while preserving the unique role each plays in guiding our institution.

There is much to be done.

We all know these are uncertain and challenging times in the postsecondary education sector in Canada, particularly here in Ontario.

We are seeing government operating grants to our universities shrink while costs and demands on our institutions continue to rise. There is no question that Faculties and administrative support units across our campus are doing more with less. And we recognize the financial challenges students face in pursuing their studies.

The spotlight on my salary and administrative leave has also started a critical conversation about how universities attract and retain leadership talent, and the broader fiscal realities facing higher education in our province. It is a conversation I support and encourage.

That’s why I endorse our Board of Governors’ decision to conduct an independent and impartial review of my contract and compensation.

Despite these challenges and the work of ahead of us, let’s not lose sight of what we’ve achieved together in six short years — together, we have made great progress, but there is still much left to do.

I wish to acknowledge all those who have expressed their support for me over the course of the last two weeks. I have found much encouragement and reason for optimism in the many messages I’ve received from students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends.

Fellow Senators and colleagues, when I accepted the terms of my contract, I did not anticipate the groundswell of concern it would create. I have heard your concerns. I take them very seriously. And the intensity of that concern is itself proof that I made a mistake. For this I am profoundly sorry. Again, I ask for your forgiveness.

When I was installed as President in 2009, I pledged to give my heart and soul and devote all my energy to the service of Western. Today, I renew the same pledge to you to give my heart and soul and to devote all my energy to work with you to advance our common goals.

It is my sincerest hope that together we can continue our work, make our voices heard and change Western and, indeed, the world, for the better.

Before I hand the floor back to the Chair for Q&A it is critical that we have an objective discussion of our budget here today, separate from the concerns around my compensation and leadership.

It is important to consider and offer advice on the University’s budget for 2015-16, a document produced out of our collective planning process, one that involves the honest, substantial labours of colleagues in Departments, Faculties, and support units across campus.