Western University President Dr. Alan Shepard. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News.)

Western’s new president taking hands-on approach

Students starting and continuing their post secondary careers at Western can expect to see a more hands-on approach from the university’s new president.

Dr. Alan Shepard took over the role from Dr. Amit Chakma in July and is the institution’s 11th president and vice-chancellor. As fall classes at the north London campus began this week, Shepard made it clear he is there to help students get the most out of their education.

“I practice an engaged administrative model. I think that it’s important to understand what people on the ground are experiencing, and to engage with them,” said Shepard.

One of his first steps in accomplishing that was through an informal “welcome back to campus social” on Thursday. The two hour event offered students and staff a chance to meet Shepard face-to-face.

“I like to interact directly with students, staff, and faculty members at the university,” said Shepard. “I’ll be hosting, probably at the start of every semester, coffee with the president. I’ve done this in previous roles in Montreal and I would literally have thousands of people show up. It was incredibly fun.”

Shepard immigrated to Canada 20 years ago from the United States and he remains a dual citizen. Prior to taking over the top leadership role at Western, he served as president and vice-chancellor of Concordia University in Montreal, Québec. He arrived in London ahead of his family at the start of July and spent his early days trying to get to know his new city.

“I’ve found people incredibly friendly, welcoming, and open. There is a lot of culture going on in this city, that’s fun. I’ve found some funky stores and great places to have dinner and pizza… I turned off my GPS when I first got here in July and just drove around to get the vibe,” said Shepard.

With the return of a full contingent of students to campus, Shepard is more than ready to get down to business. He has set three main priorities aimed at building on Western’s strong reputation – do great teaching, do great research, and engage the community.

He will also continue initiatives aimed at curbing the disruptive and destructive fake homecoming (FoCo) celebrations that have plagued Broughdale Avenue for the past few years.

“These unsanctioned street parts are a North American wide phenomenon, so it is not unique to London or Western. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a circuit where people go from one unsanctioned street party to the next over the course of the year,” said Shepard. “The thing that has shifted at Western, and it happened before I started, was a much deeper engagement with community partners – London police, EMS, firefighters, the city – to ensure that we have safe opportunities for our students and we reduce the size of the unsanctioned parties.”

He pointed to the continued expansion of alternative programming offered on campus during FoCo as a way to draw people away from the unruly street parties. Called Purple Fest, the alternative programming on September 28 will feature performances at TD Stadium by A$AP Rocky, A Boogie Wit da Hoodie, Tyga, and bülow.

“The hope of the institution is to reduce Broughdale to where it isn’t a party anymore because it’s not fun and where there is no action. That is the goal,” said Shepard.

He went on to explain that Western has positioned itself well to weather cuts made to the province’s universities by the Ford government.

“This year the Ford government introduced a 10 per cent tuition reduction which has impacted Western as it did all Ontario universities. They also made cuts to OSAP as well,” said Shepard.”We are doing ok, we are hanging in there. I think the important thing to do is ensure we protect the quality of the education and I think we have done that well.”

He advises students who are struggling due to the changes to OSAP to reach out to the student union and administration for support.

Shepard stressed he wants students to get the most out of their post secondary education and to be prepared for their future careers.

“What I always say to students is that everybody is on their own path and they are all ok. Some people take four years, some people speed through in three years, some people do art history, some people do microbiology and the world is a big place that needs all of those people,” said Shepard.