Amid a climate of yearly budget cuts that have left Nova Scotia universities hunting for savings, Dalhousie University has named Richard Florizone as its next president.
Dr. Florizone is vice-president, finance and resources at the University of Saskatchewan, where he arrived in 2005, but is on leave for a six-month secondment to the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), a development institution focused on sustainable growth in the developing world. His term begins July 1, 2013.
With a doctorate in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and private-sector experience with Bombardier Inc. and the Boston Consulting Group, the native of Prince Albert, Sask., brings decidedly different credentials than outgoing president Tom Traves, the history scholar who will depart in June after leading Dalhousie for 18 years.
“It’s a real honour and privilege,” Dr. Florizone said. “President Traves’s leadership has been recognized across the country. I think the test for any leader as you leave is to look at an organization and say, ‘Did you leave it stronger than you found it?’ That’s very much true with Dalhousie.”
Still, Nova Scotia’s largest university is in its third consecutive year of government-imposed 3-per-cent budget cuts, and faces an uncertain funding future with a provincial election likely in 2013. Anticipating demographic decline, the current NDP government has voiced concerns about the sustainability of the province’s higher education system, and continues to press Dalhousie and other schools in the province to explore money-saving options like mergers or sharing programs and services.
“Clearly it is a different environment from the last decade or two – there’s new financial challenges, there’s a lot of discussion about technology,” Dr. Florzine said. “I’ll be looking through the lens of the fundamental mission of the university, which is about teaching, about research and scholarly work, and about community engagement.”
At age 44, he is younger than most Canadian university leaders, but his experience across a range of sectors including universities makes him unique, said Dalhousie board chair Jim Spatz in a statement.
“I think a president absolutely requires a deep understanding of universities, their culture,” Dr. Florzine said, “but the argument I’d make is that presidents need a very good understanding of external environments, especially today.”
A search committee made up of six members of the board of governors, six faculty and two students unanimously chose Dr. Florizone. Dalhousie Faculty Association president David Mensink still lamented that the school had not held meetings to solicit feedback on the choice from the broader Dalhousie community, as it did with candidates for its academic vice-president job in February 2011.
“A university is a complex collective of individuals and groups and to appoint a president without consultation shows a corporate, top down managerial approach,” Dr. Mensink said.
But Dr. Florzine promises to start his new job with a “bottom up” approach. “One of my first acts I’ve talked about is 100 days of listening,” he said, citing “a fairly structured consultation process with the internal and external community to get a better sense of [their] dreams and ambitions.”