A Return Home

By Kate Watson | fall 2017

When Dr. Malcolm Butler returned to Saint Mary’s University on July 1, 2017 as the new Vice-President, Academic and Research, it definitely felt like a homecoming – and one he’s excited about.

“I’m returning to the place that formed who I am as an academic leader,” explains Butler from his office in the McNally Building. “And I’m pleased that I can pay that back now by helping to shape and evolve the direction of Saint Mary’s.”

A tireless advocate for Saint Mary’s, Butler was Dean of the Faculty of Science from 2006 to 2010 and also served as a professor in the Department of Astronomy and Physics for 17 years. When he moved to Carleton University in 2010 to serve as their Dean of Science, he hoped he would be back at Saint Mary’s one day.

He sought a position that would broaden his experience, and decided that Carleton, despite being almost four times larger than Saint Mary’s, offered similar student-and-community-centred values. During his tenure as Dean of Science at Carleton, Dr. Butler was very successful at growing enrolments, increasing research capacity and external funding, and adding new programs and new facilities.

One thing has remained a constant during his career. Butler is passionate about advocating for students and faculty. He considers it one of the most important aspects of his new job, and says that any overarching strategic plan must have buy-in from the people that it affects. “It’s not good enough to just have a plan. You need to think about the necessary steps to make the plan happen and create a map for implementing those steps.” To that end, he is making it a priority to reach out to key faculty, staff, and student groups on campus, and to find creative ways to make connections with students and faculty members so that their questions and ideas will be heard.

“At a university the size of Saint Mary’s, there’s the real opportunity to bump into people and have spontaneous conversations. I intend to get out of my office as much as possible, and I want everyone to know that they are welcome to bend my ear. I think that’s an important way to build our university community.”

Butler is also happy to be back in the wider Halifax community, a place that really feels like home to him because both his children were born here.

He describes the city as “lively” with attractions and services that make it as livable as a larger city without a “concrete jungle” feel. And while he admits that the weather on the East Coast can sometimes be a bit challenging, he feels the proximity to the ocean and the access to green space, both within in the city and outside of it, more than makes up for the inclement days.

For Dr. Butler, the return to Saint Mary’s in the role of new Vice-President, Academic and Research is the fulfillment of a long-held desire.

“I hoped that I would be back at Saint Mary’s one day, but I knew when I left that there were no guarantees,” he muses, and then adds with a playful smile, “I guess you could say that the stars aligned.”

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