photo: Paul Darrow

Making Change

Dr. Colin Dodds on the importance of education, giving back, and family.

By Maroon & White | spring 2015

Over the course of the last 32 years, Saint Mary’s University President Dr. Colin Dodds has given much to the University, its students, and the wider Halifax community. Willingly forfeiting decades of evenings and weekends, he’s presided over significant campus expansions, made major contributions to various boards, both locally and nationally, lent his expertise to provincial committees, and encouraged internationalism within the university.

Dodds explains that universities with their mission of teaching, research and service, and values of inclusion, respect and social justice play a key role in the economic and societal fabric of a nation. However, in July 2015, in the continuation of an incredible 40-year-plus academic career in the UK and Canada, Dodds will step down from the Presidency—the keeper of the traditions and values of the University—and will resume his faculty position in the Sobey School of Business.

In reflecting upon the road that ultimately led him to Saint Mary’s, Dodds recalled the landscape of higher education in the UK in the 1970s and early ’80s, noting, “Higher education was going through some real changes in the UK—changes that I didn’t feel were the most positive,” he says.

Having spent a year at McMaster University as a visiting professor, Canada was on his radar. But when he decided to leave England, family in tow, he had to choose between two attractive opportunities—one in Halifax and the other in Singapore. Ultimately, it was a 10-day visit to Halifax in March 1982 that helped him make the decision to accept a faculty position at the Sobey School of Business. “I was given a list of people to contact and I spent time with them all,” says Dodds. “By the time I went back to the UK, I felt that this was a very special city, a very welcoming university community, and a place that we could bring up our kids; and it was beside the ocean.”

Serving as President has been a great honour.

At the time, Dodds’ son James was five years old, and his daughter Elizabeth was only 12 weeks. His wife Carol had never even been to Halifax. When they arrived, they initially moved into a motel, with all of their belongings waiting in a container.

“Once we found a home, and our son realized he was not on holidays, we embraced the Saint Mary’s and Halifax communities, both of which surpassed our expectations,” says Dodds. 

That worked well, as he far exceeded the expectations of everyone else. Over the course of his distinguished career, he’s held a wide range of notable titles, taking on positions as a Department Chair, MBA Director, Dean of the Sobey School of Business, Vice-President of Academic and Research, and ultimately, in 2000, President and Vice-Chancellor. And he has continued to teach international finance.

These positions gave him the reach and influence he needed to guide the University through a remarkable period of growth. One of the biggest changes he helped drive with his administrative colleagues was a major expansion of the Saint Mary’s campus, which saw significant campus infrastructure renewal, including the residences, Science, Loyola academic and the McNally buildings and the additions of the Atrium, the Language Centre and the Homburg Centre. Earlier, as Dean, he established the Executive MBA program, and created the Saint Mary’s University Business Development Centre (BDC), which started out in Dartmouth, then downtown Halifax, but was later moved to the Saint Mary's campus in order to be more accessible to students, and renamed the Sobey School Business Development Centre."

“I see the BDC as a laboratory for students,” says Dodds. “By establishing the BDC for business start-ups and the development of business plans and so on, we gave business students the chance to get some very real-world experience. It’s a true centre for entrepreneurship.”

He pays tribute to the students, faculty, and staff with support from the Board of Governors, alumni and friends that together have built the academic stature of the University, but always in the context of fiscal prudence. He is particularly proud of the number of Canada Research Chairs, CFI and Tri-Council Research Funding faculty have achieved, and the global research networks and international institutional partnerships established. He also values the positive labour relations that have been such an important part of the University.

Another hallmark of his leadership has been his tireless work to promote an international culture within the University. The result of those efforts allows the University to boast enrolment of students from more than 100 countries. “We’d always had an international focus, particularly in Asia and the Caribbean, but we really started to build on that over the last 15 years. Education is now the global currency and the vision of the university is one of accessibility and for our students to aspire to be citizens of the world,” explains Dodds. “Our faculty is very international so we have diversity not just in our student body, but in our faculty and staff complements as well.”

Even while doing all this, Dodds still found time to make considerable contributions to the post-secondary community, the Provincial community, and Canada via his participation on a wide variety of boards, including the Association of Atlantic Universities, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, World University Services Canada, the Canadian Bureau of International Education, the Better Business Bureau of Atlantic Canada, the Bank of Canada, and the Asia Pacific Foundation. He is co-chair of the Premier of Nova Scotia’s Immigration Council, has been inducted into Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame, and holds the Queen Elizabeth Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, and has received the 2014 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration. He attends as many Huskies games and student-organized events as he can.

“You have to give back,” says Dodds. “And people can give back in a variety of ways: Some people can give back with their talents, as a volunteer, as a community leader. Some can give back philanthropically with monetary donations, and the $45-million Hearts and Minds Capital Campaign chaired by Dr. Paul Sobey is proof of that. Some do both. I believe strongly that Canada has been so good to my family, that it is not only an obligation, but a privilege for us to give back.”

Of all of the things he’s accomplished over the last 40 years, Dodds is most proud of his family. “As education has been my life and passion, serving as President has been a great honour and rewarding experience, and my family has given me the opportunity to fulfill my vocation,” he says. “Everything I’ve achieved, we’ve achieved it together as a family and it has been fun!

“One of the things that makes my life worthwhile is to see students walking across the stage to receive their degrees,” he continues. “Knowing that in some instances I’ve either taught them or played a role in their academic achievements in some way. And even those I don’t know may have had a mentor or someone at the University who has made a change in their life. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

Campus Notes: “I give because I believe in Saint Mary’s University.”

Featured Articles: James Curleigh: The Rock Star CEO

Alumni News: Getting Back to the Classroom