Thursday, June 12, 2008

University of Winnipeg Part 1

The University of Winnipeg has been on a bit of a roll as of late. It is a bit of a change since 2003 when Constance Rooke, the fifth president of the university was fired. The university was crippled by cutbacks, faculty unhappiness and administrative problems. The future didn't look bright.

Through three presidents from Robin Farquhar (1981 to 1989), Marsha Hanen (1989-1999) and Constance Cooke (1999-2003), the U of W has had its funding chipped away at and yet still somehow managed to stay fairly well rated in Maclean's annual survey.

There were few triumphs in regards to campus life aside from the Athletic Center ( later named the Duckworth Center).

Constance Rooke tried to be creative with financing but ended up alienating faculty and the powers that be above her. One of her creative adventures was to buy some of the houses in and around Spence Street for student housing. While this may have been good for some of the students, it was probably the last straw when it came to her job.

Lloyd Axworthy left politics in 2000 and took a job with the Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues in British Columbia. In 2004, he accepted the job of president of the University of Winnipeg. It was the return of the prodigal son in many ways. Axworthy had taught at the university many years earlier before and it seemed a natural fit once he was out of office.

While there must have been great hopes that a man of Axworthy's stature would enhance the reputation of the University of Winnipeg, I don't think anyone realized that he would embark on some of the most exciting changes the university has seen in decades.

Since 2004, the university has not only initiated one of the largest brick and mortar repair and expansion projects but has created new faculties and enhanced others.

For some time, the front of the university facing on to Portage Avenue was a dangerous place to be. Not only did someone risk being assaulted by people seeking money or worse, there was also a danger of getting conked on the head by a piece of masonry from the Collegiate.

Axworthy was able to get increased funding for a three pronged attack that repaired the masonry, revamped the green space in the front of the university and increased security. For many years mesh held back falling rock atop the Collegiate. It was a constant reminder of the sad sack state of affairs in terms of infrastructure at the campus.

The frontage out to Portage Avenue has been rejuvenated completely and now with the addition of the closure of Spence Street, we are seeing a more pedestrian friendly campus.

It remains to be seen whether the green space at the front of the university is going to be a place for students to hang out and sit in the sun as they once did prior to the makeover. This fall should give a pretty clear indication of whether the improvements are being utilized as they were intended.

(continued in Part 2)

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