The University of Saskatchewan has named Ilene Busch-Vishniac its ninth president, choosing a leader who intends to make the prairie school a national leader in rethinking university teaching.
Dr. Busch-Vishniac, currently McMaster University’s provost, will be the first female president in the University’s 103-year history, and is often described as a sharp, practical thinker with a keen interest in teaching and learning as well as a knack for community outreach.
At a time when every university faces funding constraints, Dr. Busch-Vishniac saw opportunity in USask’s central role in the province’s education system and economy, which positions it to “take some prudent risks.”
“They have a wonderful relationship with the provincial government here – not what I’ve experienced regularly in my time at McMaster,” she said.
Dr. Busch-Vishniac, 56, succeeds outgoing president Peter MacKinnon, who will leave the job in June after 13 years. She hails from just outside Philadelphia, Pa., a mechanical engineer trained at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and was dean of engineering at Johns Hopkins University before landing at McMaster in 2007.
Connecting with Saskatchewan’s sizable and growing aboriginal population is a clear early priority, and she can draw on experience working with Ontario’s Six Nations at McMaster. She also plans to take maximum advantage of the school’s new and existing facilities, from a still-unfinished building set to house the province’s only medical school to its expanding nuclear assets, including a new research centre being built with $30-million in provincial funds.
But while she is charged with building the school’s research intensity, it is clear Dr. Busch-Vishniac also expects to make a mark steering the school toward new, more current strategies for teaching and learning.
“We need to be more thoughtful about what we are doing in postsecondary education and make sure that the methods that we are using are driven by the literature and the work that shows us what are the best practices,” she said.
Last October, Dr. Busch-Vishniac announced she would not seek a second term as McMaster’s provost, and McMaster president Patrick Deane said it was clear at the time she had set her sights on a presidential role.
“They have someone who’s got excellent experience and clear views on the nature of the university and what it should be doing,” Dr. Deane said, “but also enough practical intelligence to know how to make those things happen.”