The joint board of governors and senate electoral board has named Jack Cowin as the 22nd chancellor of Western University.
The Australian businessman and Western alumnus succeeds Joseph Rotman, who passed away in January.
“When I was first approached, I was quite surprised and it was not something I had anticipated. My first reaction was that I was honoured to be asked and then my second reaction was, is this practical?” he said in a phone interview from his Australian home on Monday.
Originally from Windsor, Cowin attended Western to play football and majored in psychology before transitioning into the business world. Although he has been living in Australia for the last 45 years, Cowin has maintained close ties with Western, including serving as chairman of the International Advisory Board. He has donated about $5-million to Western over the years and the stands at TD Stadium are named after his father.
About six years ago, he says he was staggered to find out that the number of international students at Western was sitting at about 3 per cent.
“The reality of life today is that in business — and really every sphere — is that you have to be able to expand and think beyond your own back yard,” Cowin said.
Cowin credits his busy travelling schedule for business for attaining an international point of view and wants to bring his experience to the table.
“I think I can bring that sort of thinking, that ‘how does Western as a university, if it hopes to be a leader in the direction that education is going, how do we develop that international aspect?’ ”
Cowin believes Western has to take a more rigorous global and international aspect if the school wants to become a leader in the educational sphere.
“I think there is a correlation between business and learning, and if you have a goal to improve the standards of the university then you have to be able to get the best peoples to become attracted to this university from a faculty and a learning point of view.”
Helen Connell, associate vice-president of communications for Western, said Cowin’s global experience will be an asset in helping Western attain its goals.
“Western has set its sights on becoming globally recognized for our teaching and research excellence so the timing is right to have a chancellor who is as much a global citizen as Mr. Cowin,” Connell said.
However, not everybody is excited about the new chancellor.
Members of the community, including the Western Solidarity Network, have raised concerns over Cowin’s appointment, referencing, among other things, his letter of support to Western President Amit Chakma in April.
Cowin maintains his support of Chakma, stating that he has a high reputation in the educational world.
“I would hope that this will be a historical event that will go away as there are too many other important issues Western has to deal with as a university if its going to continue to grow and progress,” Cowin said.
“This sort of attack on an individual was unfortunate and hopefully we can move beyond this and get on with better things in life.”
Kristin Hoffman, University of Western Ontario Faculty Association president, said she does not know Cowin well enough to speak on the criticism he is receiving. However, she hopes that Cowin will support Western’s core missions.
“Our focus for the association is on trying to get some reforms to the governance processes at Western and trying to get a more transparent and open board of governors and senate. I’m hoping that is something Mr. Cowin can work towards as well,” Hoffman said.
Cowin will officially be inaugurated on October 22 at the fall convocation. He said he looks forward to the opportunity to be able to travel to Canada more frequently and maintain close interaction with Western.
“I’m very honoured to have been chosen to take this position and I look forward to the interaction that I can play within the university and interacting with the various groups that I will probably have some exposure to,” Cowin said.