Observations from the bleachers
This isn’t really an article about Gloria Jollymore. Well, it is. But it also kind of isn’t. After 25 years of being the face of the Mount Allison experience for so many, there was no way we weren’t going to pin her down for a last — sniff, sniff — heart-to-heart and tête-à-tête before she locked the door behind her a final time in June of this year. But if we were going to do this, Gloria had some rules.
This was not, under any circumstances, to be a piece exclusively about her (despite how much I wanted it to be — let’s face it, this is a fascinating and accomplished woman) or her contributions (and there have been many).
No, if she was going to shine a spotlight, it would be on the very subject she’s been shining one on for the last quarter century — Mount Allison University. And I could certainly get behind that.
MJD: I know this conversation isn’t technically supposed to be about you. But let’s set the stage. What year did you graduate from Mount A?
GJ: I came to Mount Allison during the “freshie-soph” era. Students could get advance credits in their first year that popped them into second year. So, I came in with the Class of 1978, but graduated with the Class of 1977. And I have a message for all the freshie-sophs out there: it doesn’t matter what class you graduated with, when it comes to reunions, just come back and do it often.
MJD: And even though this is absolutely not an article about you, I’m going to ask anyway: What was the draw for you to come back in 1996?
GJ: Some people think I graduated and never left. But I had a half a career behind me before I came back to Mount A. I had just finished my MBA, which I took because I wanted to develop some good analytical skills.
So I was still thinking analytical skills when Floyd Dykeman interviewed me [for alumni director] and I thought, “I can learn from this guy.” It felt like a good extension of my MBA.
And I did learn a lot about analysis from him. I am glad I developed those skills and they have been very useful. But you know, I am still not a really good analytical thinker.
What I have learned is that it’s smarter to build on what you’re good at, rather than try to build on where you are weak. Sure maybe you need to bolster some areas — there has to be a balance, no question — but if you really want to accomplish what you want to accomplish, you should build on your strengths.
MJD: We’re in interesting times. What do you see as being the importance of a liberal arts undergraduate degree in the 21st century?
GJ: The world has become so complex. Accessing the opportunities and meeting these challenges requires people be skilled in dealing with complexity. And the great originator of thinking that deals with complexity is the liberal arts.
MJD: This may be sort of naïve, but where do the sciences fit into this?
GJ: The original conceptualization of the liberal arts didn’t have anything to do with the “arts” as we understand it. It had to do with a broad understanding of the world around us. So, it included arts and science and philosophy and mathematics.
Today, we say the liberal arts and sciences — so that it feels more digestible as an educational concept — but it stems from an interdisciplinary approach.
MJD: At a time when you’re within your rights to be looking back, how do you see the role of innovation as it fits into Mount A moving forward?
GJ: It is essential — essential to facing the challenges and grabbing the opportunities. Because there’s got to be both. A liberal arts education fosters an ability to think across platforms, that’s really what interdisciplinary is.
The role of innovation right now is that students need to be able to learn to think across disciplines — to learn in different ways and to apply it in different ways. And the way to apply it is through hands-on experiential learning.
You hear today in business, buzz phrases, like: “We’ve got to get into the sandbox.” How do we learn in that exploratory, take-risks, fail, try-again, fail-better sandbox? That’s where innovation needs to take us. I don’t mean for a moment to say there is not a need for disciplinary depth. There’s a balance.
MJD: You said something once about “the opportunity, obligation, and adventure of philanthropy.” Talk to us about this.
GJ: There are some long-standing models of philanthropy. One is that the philanthropist says: “This is what is of interest to me and I would like to make a difference in this area.” Another model is the organization says: “We really need funds and these are the things we will do.”
Where the opportunity is, and where the excitement is, is in the two coming together in a conversation.
The role of the fund raiser is the pin in the two sides of the hinge. The successful fund raising leader is not just someone who can sell the organization and make a case for our needs.
Yes, you need to be able to do that. But is also someone who understands what the philanthropist wants to accomplish. A trusted broker. Someone to guide the conversation with the philanthropist about how they want to make a difference, and then, bring that back to the institution and to be able to represent the philanthropist to the institution in a balanced way, just as you would represent the institution to the philanthropic community.
MJD: How do you feel that dialogue is playing out at Mount A?
GJ: It is the same in any relationship. Your ability to have the conversation needs to mature over time. The University isn’t always ready to open itself up to the philanthropist. Too often we say: “No, we know what we need.” And the philanthropist will say: “No, this is the way I want to make a difference.” So, as the trusted broker, we can ask: What if the conversation was open between the two?
MJD: How do we do that?
GJ: Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Some philanthropists are really good at opening their thinking to how the University can be the right place to accomplish their philanthropic goals. And the University should not be afraid to take a risk on an idea that a philanthropist might have.
MJD: When you think about what lies ahead for Mount A — and you’re going to be watching from, I don’t want to say the sidelines now, but —
GJ: From the bleachers. (laughing)
MJD: Exactly. Cheering from the best seats in the house. What do you believe we should be most excited about?
GJ: It’s hard to articulate. It’s more a feeling I have. When I listen to President Jean-Paul Boudreau talk about innovation or when I listen to (Provost and Vice-President, Academic and Research) Dr. Jeff Hennessy on the liberal arts. Or when I listen to some of our faculty who are starting to say: “Hey, I think we can do this differently.” When I listen to some of our philanthropists, who really want to take the walk with us. I have this sense that Mount A is on the cusp of its next big lift.
MJD: What do you see as being the fuel in the engine? What makes Mount A, Mount A?
GJ: Well — it’s the people, isn’t it? A community of people in service to elevate. Service likely sounds rather old-fashioned. But over the past 25 years, I’ve seen that what makes Mount A, Mount A is people who serve.
If you’re a student, it is called extracurricular activity. Faculty have it built right into their professional model: teaching, research, and service. For staff, it is called ‘going above and beyond’ — and so many do. If you’re an alum, it is called volunteerism or philanthropy. Think of the thousands of hours and gobs of talent in committee meetings, on MASU or Senate or Boards, in lesson prep, rehearsals, debates, performances, games, practices. All that is what makes Mount A ‘work’.
I know it’s dangerous to shine a light on some at the risk of excluding others. But I can’t help but point to the alumni who’ve served in volunteer leadership roles.
There are the Alumni Board Chairs who give so incredibly of their time and talent — Sue Winsor (’60), Gordon MacKay (’67), Bill Bishop (’70), Catherine Decarie (’90) all mentored me in my early career.
I worked closely with Scott McCain who chaired the JUMP campaign and kept at it long after his initial commitment until it was so successfully concluded.
Very few see the extraordinary contribution of those who volunteer to serve on the Board of Regents. But, to my mind, the crème de la crème of those who serve are our chancellors: Margaret McCain (’54, LLD ’95), Purdy Crawford (’52, LLD ’91), Jim Keith (LLD ’10), John Bragg (’62, ’63, LLD ’93), Peter Mansbridge (LLD ’99), and Lynn Loewen (’82). Theirs is the quintessential exemplar, largely unsung, of the passion and energy that makes Mount A, Mount A.
MJD: If I could be so bold as to add one more name to that list: we’ll miss you, Gloria Jollymore.