The President Series: Robert Derrenbacker

By Kayla Perry, Editor in Chief

This Q and A is the second of four segments in the President Series. For each issue, I’ll be sitting down with a president from each of the federated universities, discussing what makes each of the universities unique: we’ll be discussing everything from programs to faculty to the residences offered. My first interview was with Pierre Zundel, the President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Sudbury. My second interview, below, is with Robert Derrenbacker, President and Chaplain of Thorneloe University. The segment will then end with a Q and A with Laurentian University President and Vice-Chancellor Dominic Giroux. Stay tuned!

Q: As a university, what sets Thorneloe aside from the other federated universities?

A: What sets Thorneloe University apart from the rest of the campus has to do with Thorneloe’s Anglican identity. Thorneloe University is affiliated with the Anglican Church of Canada, it has a historic connection with the Anglican Church since it’s inception. It’s named after Archbishop George Thorneloe, who was a Canadian Anglican archbishop at the turn of the twentieth century. That identity and that relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada has continued ever since. We also have a chapel on our campus, which is the only freestanding chapel on the entire Laurentian University campus, and that’s the Fielding Memorial Chapel of St. Mark, where we offer all sorts of great things in the chapel, in terms of support for students. Those are a couple of the things which set us apart, I think: the Anglican identity and it’s related chapel.

Robert Derrenbacker poses for a photo in Thorneloe University. Photo by Zara Golafshani.
Robert Derrenbacker poses for a photo in Thorneloe University. Photo by Zara Golafshani.

Q: Regarding the chapel, when is the chapel open for students and faculty to visit?

A: We have an assistant Chaplain who works here at Thorneloe part-time, Rachel Perry. Rachel is here on campus usually on Thursdays and one more day of the week, and she has office hours posted as well. She also leads discussions once a week in our residence. Then, on Thursday at noon there is an Anglican Eucharist which I lead.

Q: Which programs are based out of Thorneloe University?

A: We have five programs, plus a program in theology. We have Women’s Studies, Theatre Arts, Classics and Ancient Studies, Motion Picture Arts Production, and then our Religious Studies department, which is a joined department between the three federated universities. So, those are the programs that we have. Other than religious studies, the rest of our programs are not offered anywhere else on campus, although our Theatre Arts program is in English, and I know there is of course a great Theatre Arts program on campus offered in French as well. Interestingly, they’ve been partnering with us this year in new ways. The program has been using our classroom space this year here at Thorneloe and there have been some great partnerships happening from that.

Q: How do these programs benefit students?

A: They’re all part of the larger humanities package, and a healthy university will always have a healthy humanities program. The humanities expose us to critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and it also fosters in students a love for life long learning. All of our programs contribute to the larger mission of the humanities on campus, which is something that all of our faculty are very committed to and dedicated to.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about the changes in the Thorneloe residence that have happened lately?

A: Yes, we renovated our kitchens last year, we have two kitchens in residence. Part of the experience in our residence, which sets it apart, is the ability for students to make their meals and eat them together. We have 58 rooms in the residence spread over two floors. The two kitchens were renovated last summer, so they’re brand new and really beautiful, with new countertops, new appliances and new flooring. Students have really appreciated that renovation because an important part of the residential experience here at Thorneloe, given our size, is that common food preparation experience and sharing meals together. It’s a skill I’m really committed to fostering in our students: it’s not just about what you learn in the classroom, but also what you learn outside the classroom. I think one of the important skills to learn outside of the classroom is learning how to cook and eat together.

Q: As a university building, Thorneloe is known for it’s theatre – how would you say the opportunity for theatre productions benefits the university?

A: Well, it’s one of the places where we see fine arts on campus, and just as humanities are essential to the university experience, part of that, of course, are the fine arts. I can’t imagine a university experience without the fine arts, without that being offered on campus. The program is one of the ways we can plant and wave the fine arts flag, and say ‘this is a great thing, that everyone should participate in if they can, either as an actor or a patron.’ Our additions for our two main stages are always addition, so students don’t need to be a theatre major, per se, to be involved in a production: it’s open to the entire community. In fact, last year I was in one of the productions, in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. It wasn’t a major role, but there were a lot of lines for me to learn – it was intimidating at first, but it was a lot of fun. It’s a great space, and it’s a real beacon for the arts on this campus.

Q: Can you think of one word which describes Thorneloe as a whole?

A: How about a phrase? The phrase I choose is our new slogan: Learning for life. Learning for life connotes two things: first of all, that the learning that happens helps our students at Thorneloe helps them prepare for what life has in store for them. It’s preparing our students to go into the world as thinking citizens in a democracy. That’s the first connotation for the phrase. The other is that we believe strongly that what we offer here fosters that desire to be life long learners, and so learning for life also indicated that what students take away from their experience here at Thorneloe University is a desire, a passion, for life long learning.

Q: We’re just getting over that mid-term stress. What advice can you offer first year students to help them deal with their newfound university stress?

A: I would offer a couple of things. First, I’d say don’t be afraid to take a long walk. Second, I’d say to turn off your phone for a little bit, and unplug. I think that’s an important part of stress release: I know for myself, I have lots of responsibility in my position, and my phone is constantly ringing. Sometimes, it’s helpful just to shut it down for a bit and de-stress – by turning off your phone you’re able to turn off, just for a little bit, some of the stresses. Students now more than ever are connected and wired, and I don’t think that helps with stress.