June 14, 2018 - 9:15am
Much to be proud of and thankful for at University
Dr. David Witty, outgoing Provost and Vice-President Academic at Vancouver Island University (VIU), knew he was blessed in his new role as he traveled on the ferry one day eight years ago to visit VIU’s Powell River Campus.
There were a few reasons he felt that way. The first and most obvious was the breath-taking scenery. The second was what it meant to be traveling to a community the size of Powell River (population approximately 13,000) for the reason he was going: to introduce himself as the new Provost of the newly-minted University and to lay out the consultation process for gathering their feedback of what should be included in the future academic plan. The significance of it was profound for him; a community this small had access to university-level education.
“It struck me as something very special,” Witty reflects. “Over time, I also came to understand that what we do at VIU is something special. Open access education isn’t just a concept we talk about to feel good about our work – it’s a mandate we deliver that changes lives.”
Witty has faithfully served VIU’s mandate as a new university with a responsibility to its region for the last eight years. As Provost and Vice President, he was tasked with supporting the academic planning for the institution.
“Dr. Witty was the right person to lead that planning process,” say Dr. Ralph Nislon, VIU President and Vice Chancellor of VIU. “The Academic Plan that resulted from his efforts has been one of the strongest pieces of our integrated planning process and is where many important parts of our identity as an institution live.” These include VIU’s mission, vision, values and institutional purpose.
VIU’s academic plan is now in its second iteration because almost all the objectives in the first were reached. The objectives were broad, but the resulting work was specific with tangible results. Regular and rigorous review of academic programs through the initiation of a Summative Program Assessment has also been a key development in ensuring academic quality oversight is consistent and meets the standards set by the University Senate.
Witty will be the very first to say that this work was across the institution and led by many different people. It is all part of the growth and evolution of VIU as a university and has meant there have been many celebrations over the years. He points out that he has learned a great deal from the First Nation and Metis communities in their commitment to education and the role VIU should play in providing access to excellence.
“I do a lot of traveling and meeting with communities, government and senior management from other institutions. Every time I do this I find myself feeling so proud of what we have accomplished here. The creativity of the faculty we have to make our goals a reality, despite issues like funding restraints, is inspiring because it has created so much positive change over the years,” Witty says. “I tell students, and I truly believe this, that we provide some of the most relevant education in the country. We support students who would not ‘make the cut’ at so many other universities. We are very good at what we do and provide our students with an education that will serve them for their entire lives.”
Recognition is now coming from outside about the quality of this education. Master of Community Planning Director Dr. Pam Shaw recently received a 3M National Teaching Fellowship, a rare award given only to the very best in post-secondary teaching in Canada. VIU was just named a finalist for the Higher Education Academy’s 2018 Global Excellence in Teaching Award – one of only 17 institutions among hundreds of applicants from 41 countries.
“VIU has something special and is being recognized as a leader in teaching and learning. I think it is recognition that what we have is special. What other university can truly say they champion open access, truth and reconciliation, international education, trades and applied technology as well as pure academia and experiential learning?” says Dr. Liesel Knaack, Director of the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning.
“David has contributed to the University and the communities it serves in many and varied ways. He has been a key contributor to institutional change. He has welcomed and supported many new institutional leaders, such as deans, in his role as Provost and they will continue on within the institution as it evolves and grows,” says Nilson. “His passion, persistence and perseverance in his role as Provost has been essential to our success, and his impact will influence the institution for years to come.”
“I’m a builder. I like to come in at the ground floor and create something. Other people are good at carrying things on, so it’s time to hand it over to someone else,” Witty says.
Alyson Winks, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University