David Johnston as Governor General – A loss to Waterloo?

Erin Matheson - 2B Chemical
Posted on: July 21, 2010

Following his appointment as Jean Michelle’s successor as Canada’s next Governor General, news of UW’s own president David Johnston swept the country. While both praise and criticism towards Stephen Harper’s decision was discussed nation wide, it’s safe to say that a collective sense of pride could be felt around campus. For a University that is no stranger to remarkable accomplishments, this was most definitely a landmark to take note of.

Johnston took on the role of UW’s fifth president in June 1999, and the changes that he has seen during his 11-year presidency have truly been remarkable. Waterloo’s reputation as a top Canadian University has skyrocketed, our campus has seen a rate of expansion not seen since the 1960’s, when main campus itself was first being built, as well as adding the Kitchener Pharmacy campus, breaking ground for the Stratford campus this fall, and opening doors for UW students in Dubai for the first time as well. During the Town Hall meeting on October 20th, 2009, Johnston noted that Waterloo’s reputation had reached ‘#1 for 16 of the last 18 years’. A notable accomplishment, but Johnston continues to push to improve Waterloo even further. In 2008, the introduction of the ‘6th decade plan’, marking UW’s 6th decade of operation, was officially introduced. The plan outlines in detail how resources will be poured into undergraduate, graduate, research and co-op programs on all campuses with the end goal of Waterloo being recognized internationally as a world-class institution. Realizing the importance of both reputations as well as results, Johnston has arguably been able to accomplish what some strive to accomplish over the course of their entire career in just over a decade.

Looking at his accomplishments during his time here at UW, there is little question as to why Johnston was awarded this position. I personally believe he will do an excellent job serving as Governor General and could not feel more proud to be a Waterloo student during this time. However, I, like many other students, cannot shake a somewhat uneasy feeling knowing that we’ll be losing such an influential part of our administration. There is a fine line between leaving big shoes to fill for your successor, and leaving a mammoth weight to drop onto their unsuspecting shoulders, and I feel UW is currently dancing dangerously along this fine line.

Although the administration has yet to name Johnston’s successor, I hope that the administration breaks tradition and does not jump to a quick decision on this one. UW continues to exist within an upswing of development within all aspects of our University and the most devastating thing that could happen would be for this momentum to stop. Although we are only two years into the ‘6th decade plan’, results can already be seen around campus in the form of increased enrollment and the beautiful new buildings popping up all over campus. There also exists extensive plans regarding what will go into the buildings once they are finally built; world class research facilities and state of the art student shops that would make any of our countless student teams start to salivate aren’t simply a dream, but rather just around the corner. It’s this type of vision and foresight on the part of Johnston and his team that made this all possible, and losing this in our next president would be catastrophic for UW.

I’m not trying to say that there haven’t been hiccups and mistakes along the way; such is the case with any administration. The point is that UW currently has the focus of putting out the best and most prepared new graduates into the workforce, as well as being home to some of the most groundbreaking research in the world, in multiple fields. This mentality is the backbone of what it takes to become the world-class institution that we are currently striving to be. What I fear the most is the potential for our University’s new president to ignore the countless initiatives already started, and allow our school to sink to a level of cashing checks and handing out diplomas and completely disregard what goes on in-between.

As Johnston is preparing to embark on a new chapter of his career, the University he is leaving behind is starting to prepare for a new chapter of its own. I only hope those responsible for choosing Johnston’s replacement realize the impact their decision will have not only on the structure of the administration, but the University as a whole for years to come. Good luck President Johnston, we have enjoyed having you.