June 14, 2022
Chancellor Yedlin reflects on her term and speaks of her hopes for the Class of 2022
After presiding over the conferral of more than 6,000 degrees this spring, outgoing University of Calgary Chancellor Deborah Yedlin is preparing to bring her four-year term to a close at the end of June.
Yedlin welcomed graduates of the Class of 2022 to the UCalgary alumni family during the university's first truly in-person convocation ceremonies since 2019. The lively celebrations in early June capped off her time as the university’s 14th chancellor.
Throughout her career, Yedlin has been known for many things. She has been a community-builder, a renowned journalist, and a president and CEO. The UCalgary community would like to thank her for her service and her enthusiasm as she takes on yet one more title — Chancellor Emerita.
Yedlin shared some of her reflections on her time at UCalgary:
When you were first elected chancellor, what most excited you about the role?
I felt like I was drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I was determined to meet all the members of Senate, as well as the deans of the faculties — and I was also a member of the Presidential Search Committee, which took up a lot of time. But, from the first time I parked on campus and walked into the Admin Building, I felt at home because I have always enjoyed being in an academic environment.
Since then, what has been the greatest learning you will take away from the position?
This might sound trite, but I learned a lot about leadership — in the context of Senate and as a member of the Board of Governors. It’s easy to lead when things are good — but you see leaders emerge when circumstances are difficult. It requires thoughtfulness, patience, consensus-building, the ability to make a decision and to live with it, which can also be a challenge. I will definitely take those learnings with me in my role.
The university has celebrated many accomplishments over the last four years. Which advancement were you most proud to be part of?
There are a number of accomplishments that I was so happy to witness in the last four years. From being named in the top five research institutions in the country — and the youngest university to achieve that standing — to generating more startups than either Waterloo or the University of Toronto, attracting funding from the Azrieli Foundation to support research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and have the top kinesiology faculty in North America for the third year in a row! We also sent at least four students to Oxford as Rhodes Scholars. I am also proud to have seen the Indigenous Strategy recognized as an example for other universities as they look to develop their own parallel paths, as well as the Campus Mental Health Strategy, which is also seen across the country as a groundbreaking initiative.
Oh — and one more thing — the Dinos football team winning the Vanier Cup in 2019!
What was the most difficult challenge that you overcame during your time as chancellor?
The lack of connection with Senate, students, faculty, staff was so difficult during COVID-19. Like everyone else, I missed being on campus and I really missed the inability to hold in-person convocations and celebrate the achievements of our students. But equally difficult were the budget cuts, which resulted in additional challenges for the university. The Senior Leadership Team had to find a way to operate the university, carry out its mandate to educate the next generation, with a budget that had been cut back to 2006 levels, when you factor in inflation. Budget cuts of that magnitude are not the way to invest in the future of this province.
Can you tell us what you’ve learned over the last four years about the role the university plays in Calgary, and the impact it has on our city?
There aren’t too many universities that take risks. And UCalgary is one that does take risks. The success of CDL-Rockies [Creative Destruction Lab – Rockies] generating $1.7 billion in value over the last four years is a phenomenal success story. It shows how we can engage the community, both in terms of attracting mentors and capital. I remember being at the Hunter Hub [for Entrepreneurial Thinking] announcement in 2017 and realizing UCalgary was going to be a leader in how we educate our students. By committing to entrepreneurial thinking and cross-disciplinary coursework, the student graduating from UCalgary was going to have a diverse skillset to enable them to adapt to the inevitable changes and challenges they will face. Perhaps there is no better evidence of the risk-taking and innovative thinking at UCalgary than the UCeed funds that are uniquely structured to support startups generated at UCalgary; no other university in Canada has the UCeed model.
What are your hopes for the graduating Class of 2022?
I hope the Class of 2022 seizes the opportunities that lie ahead for each of them. The world is facing many challenges — geopolitical, economic, climate change, food and energy security, and a mental health crisis. But UCalgary has not only empowered our graduates to meaningfully contribute in their chosen fields, it has made it clear that their educational journeys will continue, long after graduation, through lifelong learning. We need problem-solvers, collaborators, risk-takers, scientists — and I hope they understand that their education at UCalgary is a means in itself. They have acquired both skills and knowledge that can be applied in many different ways and in many different disciplines. One of my key messages to graduates throughout convocation is that they not be constrained by the letters of their degree as they embark on their post-UCalgary journey.
Leaving a legacy
In honour of Deborah Yedlin’s time as the 14th Chancellor of the University of Calgary, an award has been established in her name. Yedlin is passionate about the power of education and has inspired graduates, telling them, “A ‘BA’ means you can ‘Be Anything’ you want to be.” The value of education was passed on to her from her parents, along with the axiom, “mens sana in corpore sano” — a Latin phrase about the ideal of versatility and emphasizing the contribution of both intellectual and physical engagement as integral to a person’s well-being.
In this spirit, the Deborah Yedlin – Be Athletic – Be Anything scholarship will support undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts who are members of a Dinos athletic team. Gifts are still being accepted to establish the fund. Donate now to support student-athletes as they complete their degrees.
Entrepreneurial UCalgary grads make an impact in business, health care, culture, law, education and more. Read more stories about Class of 2022 students.