Dr. Carol Stuart reflects on a career well-worked, and some colleagues share well-wishes

Carol_Deb_Uncle Gary

Dr. Carol Stuart receives a paddle from VIU Elder Xulsmalt (Gary Manson/Uncle Gary) and Dr. Deborah Saucier, President and Vice-Chancellor at an event to honour her years of service to VIU. Dr. Stuart is stepping down as Provost and Vice-President Academic at the end of June, 2022 and is pursuing a research leave.

June 16, 2022 - 5:15am

“Welcome home” read the sign on the door to the office in Building 180. It greeted Dr. Carol Stuart on her first day at Vancouver Island University (VIU).

“That morning, I had a meeting with Human Resources and had done a few other things. It was a bit later before I made my way to my office and there was a sign that said ‘welcome home’,” Dr. Stuart explains. “It reinforced everything I already knew about VIU – that the people and connections are what makes this institution unique.”

That was 11 years ago, and it turned out the sign was correct. The institution she joined as Dean of Health and Human Services would be her “work home” for the duration of her career. It also marked the first of a series of impactful administrative positions, ending with her tenure as Provost and Vice-President Academic.

Dr. Stuart came to VIU from Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) where she had been a faculty member and director. Her first position in post-secondary was University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills (formerly Blue Quills First Nation College) in Northeast Alberta. There, she ran a two-year diploma program in Child and Youth Care. This time allowed her to develop a path in what would become a part of her work for which she remains proudest – her contributions as an ally to truth and reconciliation, Indigenization and decolonalization, and the learnings she has absorbed over that time.

“The report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out shortly after I started (at VIU), and I recall being so impressed with the work that was going on in the Office of Indigenous Education and Engagement. I wanted to bring that into our faculty work in a more deliberate way,” she explains.

Carol_Geraldine_Mike

Dr. Stuart hugs C-tasi:a  after being gifted a Pendleton blanket by Dr. Deborah Saucier, President and Vice-Chancellor, and Mike Calvert, Chair of Aboriginal Bridging Program and Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Indigenous Commitments.

It was not long before C-tasi:a (Geraldine Manson/Auntie Geraldine) and Dr. Stuart had developed a position which saw C-tasi:a become the Faculty Elder for Health and Human Services. Among many activities, she attended faculty council meetings and opened them with protocol. The Faculty Elder concept spread throughout the University and now many faculties work with a VIU Elder in this way. Looking back, Dr. Stuart says it marked the beginning of a shift in VIU’s relationship with Elders and respect for their work. Now, Elders co-teach courses in a range of programs, are engaged in research, and are highly respected for their insight, teachings, and the supports they provide to all students and employees and in particular VIU’s Indigenous students. They have become woven into the culture of VIU so completely that it is hard to imagine the University without them.

“I am so grateful for my relationships with our Elders. I have been honoured to work with them on some important initiatives and deeply value their insights and our connections,” Dr. Stuart says. Among her most prized memories are the traditions she has been invited to participate in through these relationships and this work.

“One of my favourites part of being here has been participating in Tribal Journeys,” she says. She was invited to participate in Tribal Journeys by VIU Elder Xulsmalt (Gary Manson/Uncle Gary), who leads a canoe family, and often includes many VIU students. Since her first trip, Dr. Stuart has taken Xulsmalt up on every offer to participate.  

carol in the canoe 

Things I learned on Tribal Journeys

1. Steer carefully and firmly

2. Put your most consistent team members up front

and your strength in the middle

3. Take breaks for lunch and sunshine

4. Sing loudly

The annual event is a journey that sees canoes from Nations from Alaska to Oregon paddle to a host Nation, while celebrating and learn about culture and protocol. The number of participant canoes increases over the course of the journey, as each Nation along the way hosts the paddlers and then adds families or teams as the trip carries on. By the end, thousands of paddlers are travelling in canoes that carry 15-20 people. They arrive at the host Nation for days of resting, feasting, relationship-building, and celebrating. “The power of Tribal Journeys is the expression of culture for each community,” Dr. Stuart reflects. “The experience and relationships. It’s the culture of being a family, and experiencing Na’tsa’ maht Shqwaluwun – one heart, one mind.”

More recently, Dr. Stuart played a key role in establishing the Indigenous Commitments Committee, which is a new standing committee of the Senate. It is a primary fulfillment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliations Commission to support the rights of Indigenous Peoples to determine their own education.   

An overarching theme of Dr. Stuart’s work has been her advocacy for access to education for vulnerable people and groups that are underrepresented within post-secondary education across Canada. This work has focused on students and employees. Recent progress is the adoption of VIU’s first Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Action Plan.

“One of the first strategies (from the EDIA Plan) was the establishment of a program to hire faculty from equity seeking backgrounds. I think this program will continue to go very well and we will see a shift in our faculty that reflects the lived experience of our students and communities,” Dr. Stuart says, pointing out that the varied perspectives brought by people from diverse backgrounds only serve to enrich the educational experience of our students. “It makes VIU a better place.”

Although Dr. Stuart’s last formal position is as Provost, she did not set out to achieve such a goal.

“My career advancements have not been intentional. I just considered available opportunities where I felt I could have some impact,” she explains, and that impact has been through the lens of how students might benefit.

In addition to Tribal Journeys, another favourite part of the job has always been the students.

“The students, having a chance to build relationships with students and faculty. Being part of providing an environment where students can have success is the best part of the work I have done,” she says.

And the students have changed over the decades.

Dr. Stuart cites two distinct features of students she has noted in recent years. The first is that they are strong self-advocates for their needs.

“This is related to the importance of post-secondary education for success in careers today. People need post-secondary education for a successful career and so they have become really good self-advocates in getting the support they need to be successful.”

The second difference is the need for mental health services, which has increased dramatically from previous decades. She sees the need for mental health supports as something that is related to success. With the expense of post-secondary and the need for a good and fulfilling career, the desire to be successful is more acute, which affects mental health.

“Mental health becomes more important so we need to respond to that and I think we have done great work as an institution in this area. It is a key piece of our retention planning.”

Looking to the future, Dr. Stuart is gratified she was able to lead the process on the new Academic Plan, Weaving Our Journey Together. This is the first complete foundation plan outlined in the Strategic Plan, People, Place, Potential.

“I think it is a good plan and reflects where VIU should be going, academically. I think it will help the new Provost in moving forward,” she says

Watching students do what is required of them to progress to graduation is a standout, meaningful process for Dr. Stuart.

“Semelshun, which loosely translates to graduation, is such an impactful event because see you the pride of the students, but you also get to hear it from the students and their families at the feast afterwards,” she says.

The larger convocation event holds a special place for her as well. Each year, students who have gone through their own struggles, worked very hard, taken on new challenges and pushed themselves to achieve, cross the stage with their loved-ones in the audience watching them.

“It is why we are all here,” Dr. Stuart says.

Tributes to Dr. Stuart's contributions to VIU, and as an individual follow are below.    

Tributes to Dr. Carol Stuart

Dr. Stuart is a thoughtful, compassionate leader and team member. Her comments on any topic come from a place of rich experience and reflection. Her assistance in developing and executing the Strategic Plan, People, Place, Potential, and leading the process for the new Academic Plan, Weaving Our Journey Together has been valuable for insight, her ability to help people see the vision, and her continued desire to see VIU thrive and grow. I have greatly appreciated her contributions as a member of the Senior Management Team.

Carol is a true leader who managed the demanding role of Provost with dedication, skill, and kind-heartedness.  VIU has been especially blessed to have her at the helm through the particular challenges of the pandemic. She was a pleasure to work with these past few years, and I will miss her.

Carol is a calm compassionate data driven leader who surrounded herself with good people and set them up to succeed. She has an uncanny ability to read everything that comes across her email and she finds a way to support solutions oriented thinking. Where many say no she leans in and asks how something can happen. What’s the most distinctive I think about her leader ship style is her calm and composed nature. That was essential for the institution in so many ways over the last few years.  Having her at the helm made everyone on senior management feel that no matter what came our way, we would find a way through it. She built relationships and repaired relationships across the institution with different units. She furthered our maturity as a university, particularly with governance and supporting the way that Senate, faculty councils, and planning and priorities committees all function. 
VIU’ is a better institution given Carol’s contributions. She has left many positive impacts at the institution we will be thankful for decades to come.

It has been a great honor working with Carol, particularly in the last eight months as my direct supervisor.  She has incredible skills and gifts that demonstrates her kindness, compassion and love for the work she does.

She has empowered me to be the best version of myself and has done so with grace and ease.

What I appreciate about Carol is her vulnerability and her authenticity.  Her dedication to improving the work and having the tough conversations when needed and providing guidance to move forward the conversations that need to be had.

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Sheryl Sandbert

I have never met anyone quite like Carol in my career. Her calm, poised, and thoughtful approach to leadership has left an imprint in my mind and in my heart. She is articulate, dedicated, focused and so responsive to ALL of the changing landscapes globally, nationally, provincially and right here at VIU. Her leadership through the pandemic was noticed by many. Her gentle approach to working through difficult conversations and situations has left many in awe.  She is a woman of power and strength. A woman of intelligence and vision. She is a researcher, a mother, a transformative force, a grandmother, a friend, a social justice advocate and an ally. She is someone who likely has no idea the impact she has had on those around her.  One of my favourite quotes is from Maya Angelou and to me it describes the lifelong impact I believe Carol will have (and already has had) on many. 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” – Maya Angelou.

Thank you for all you do, and all you have done. I wish you a long happy retirement and many amazing adventure with your grand daughter, James.

The Top Ten Things I admire about you, Carol

#10 Your skill at big picture thinking—the ability to see the whole forest and the individual trees

#9 Your standard of professionalism in everything you do as an educator, a colleague, a scholar, a supervisor, and as a member of the University as a whole

#8 How practical you are. When something happens the first thing you say is “what can I/we do” and then you do something—that bit’s really important.  You understand that thinking without action creates stasis

#7 Your intelligence, your understanding of your role, and your breadth of interests

#6 Your ability to both set and keep your priorities whether they are to an individual, a program, the University, or to yourself…that is impressive

#5 Your attention to detail—really? I can’t need to explain this one

#4 Your demonstration of intellectual and academic leadership through your attention to policy and governance and through the high standard you set for yourself and encourage in others.  Most importantly, as a leader, you follow through by doing everything in your power to build capacity in others…as a supervisor you focus on what people need to flourish as themselves

#3 Your skill in a disagreement is exceptional; you have a keen understanding of the dangers of the ego and know how to not take personally something that isn’t personal—and you are remarkably calm when people do get inappropriately personal.  I am reminded of an interview I heard with Christine Lagarde (another synchronized swimmer), when asked how she dealt with obstructive men, she replied, “if they are in your way, swim around them; if they are holding your head under water, fight.”)

#2 Your ethical life, which is exemplified by all the skills above, but is worth noting on its own

And that leads me to

#1 Your compassion. You always choose compassion over judgment, compassion over fear. You have, it seems to me, achieved the three treasures of Lao Tzu—simplicity, patience, and compassion. May they bring you much peace and joy in retirement….

All my best wishes,

Marni

Working for Carol these last few years was fantastic. Her calm and steady presence will be greatly missed. I will be forever grateful for the leadership she provided and the lessons I have learned from her. I am also really going to miss her fantastic sense of humour!  I wish her all the best with her future adventures.

Carol is an authentic and principled leader who balances compassion and empathy with diligent attention to process and principles. She exemplifies servant leadership. VIU is better for her.


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