Job for new St. FX president feels like coming home

Published on August 1, 2014
File photo of Dr. Kent MacDonald and former St. FX president Dr. Sean Riley. 

PICTOU – Dr. Kent MacDonald’s first day of work was probably similar to others.

With a few butterflies in his stomach and a fresh outlook on problem solving, the New Glasgow native walked through the doors of his new office at St. Francis Xavier University Friday as its new president and started unpacking boxes.

No stranger to the St. FX campus, MacDonald walked the halls and sat in the classrooms for many years as a student in the mid-1980s.

“Some things have changed and some things feel the same,” he said during an interview Friday. “It’s the same climate and place I feel extremely comfortable. When I was introduced as the new president, the theme was I was coming home and that is what it feels like. I have been here before and some of the people have changed and facilities changed, but St. FX has a deep, rich sense of family and welcomeness. I am feeling quite comfortable.”

MacDonald was appointed the 18th president of St. FX in March and will be taking over for Dr. Sean Riley. MacDonald was born in Halifax and raised in New Glasgow. He is a graduate of St. FX with a master of education in 1993, and a bachelor of science, physical education, in 1986. He completed his doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania where his research focused on higher education management. He also holds an MBA from Université d' Ottawa.

MacDonald is currently president and chief executive officer at Algonquin College, an institution with over 20,000 students and campuses in Ottawa, Perth, Pembroke, Saudi Arabia, and a newly constructed campus in Kuwait that will be opening later this year.

He said the transition of coming from one major university to another was smooth with the help of Riley who has been corresponding with him electronically for the past few months.

One of his first goals is to speak with the people he will be working with in what he calls his 100-day plan.

“It is a term of discovery,” he said. “That will guide me through the first 100 days. I plan to speak to over 60 departments which covers all the faculty and staff to understand what is on their times and their collective aspirations.”

This will help him lay out a coherent plan for the future of the university to move it forward. He said all universities are facing challenges and St. FX is no exception.

“Some are demographic challenges, particularly in Nova Scotia,” MacDonald said. “In most western developed countries with mature universities, almost all are facing financial challenges. We have to identify what is our priority, what is our purpose and what are our goals.”

Students return to university Aug. 30 and MacDonald says he will be there the first day.

“I am planning on meeting every first-year student that arrives that day and I am planning to spend the week with them,” he said, adding that St. FX is an exceptional institution on its own, it becomes even better when the academic year start. “This place is brilliant when all the students are here.”