Pierre Zundel: an interim presidency in review

by Shanleigh Brosseau, Editor in Chief

Lambda sat down for an interview with Dr. Pierre Zundel, Laurentian University’s current interim president and vice-chancellor. Zundel reflected on his two years in office, talked about leaving his role in July and hinted at what is next for him.

Zundel assumed his role as interim president and vice-chancellor of Laurentian after Dominic Giroux’s 8-year presidency. Zundel said he felt welcomed into the position.

“I was not a stranger to people because I had been on the campus already for eight years. [That transition] felt seamless. [Giroux] had some great accomplishments here [and] it was building on a legacy he had.”

Stepping into the role of interim President and Vice-Chancellor in 2017, Zundel had many objectives to complete, one of them being the University’s strategic plan, something that Zundel says he is proud of.

“In August of 2017, the plan had [undergone] consultations, but the plan hadn’t been written, so [a big priority was] to get that plan finished and approved”.

Zundel said that he is also proud of the efforts Laurentian University and the community have made towards Indigenous reconciliation.

“Our strategic plan said that we were really serious about reconciliation,” Zundel said. “In the plan, there are seven outcomes that are related to Indigenous culture, history, research and reconciliation.”

Efforts inspired by reconciliation in the strategic plan included cultural sensitivity training for the board of governors and the executive team, as well as a newly implemented policy for trilingual signs for buildings on campus.

“Anytime we build a building or renew a sign, we do it in English, in French and Anishinabe,” Zundel said. “[This policy] is about making sure that people know that Anishinaabe is a living language and represented at the institution.”

Zundel expressed his admiration for Sudbury’s connection to the mining industry and Laurentian University’s recognition for mining research and initiatives.

“Sudbury really is the mining capital of Canada,” Zundel said.

“There is nowhere else in Canada where [if you are] interested in any aspect relating to mining, whether it is Indigenous relations, mineral exploration, mining engineering, health and safety, environmental rehabilitation, you name it, [Laurentian] is the best place in Canada to do that.”

“I am really proud of the fact that we are now claiming that, if you want to come from anywhere in the world to study mining, come [to Laurentian]” Zundel said.

“It has always been a strength but we have never publicly recognized it.”

For Zundel, student success is a key point of focus and an area of accomplishment. He says that the experiential learning opportunities for students have been a priority of the strategic plan, and something he feels is an accomplishment worth noting.

“Student success is our success,” Zundel said.

As for advice on student success, Zundel said to “squeeze every drop” out of the University experience and to have initiative.

“Go to the lectures, go the special events, participate in the clubs, and do all of the things that are available to you,” Zundel said. “There is so much here to expand your mind [and yourself].”

“I’m a strong believer in the power of experiential work-integrated learning, and we’ve been able to create some opportunities [that] I am excited about,” Zundel said.

“We have been successful in the last year and a half in getting a number of funding sources to support [that initiative].”

Another area of accomplishment Zundel enthused about was the recognition Laurentian had received for research funding.

“This year we are the number one institution in Canada for research funding among the undergraduate institutions,” Zundel said.

“That means our graduate students get funded, their projects get funded, which is a huge success.”

Zundel said Laurentian continues to face financial challenges, which are being assessed with the implementation of a budget plan.

“We had an announcement in a reduction of tuition fees, which is great for students but created another level of challenge [for the university],” said Zundel.

“We went out to the university community and asked what ideas they had to help us with this financial challenge.”

According to Zundel, they have gathered about 160 ideas into a sustainability register.

“We have been working our way through those ideas [and have been] trying to implement them.”

“We have had to make some tough decisions about positions we don’t replace and changes we have to make.”

Zundel said there are several people involved with the budget plan.

“We are trying to get people who are very close to the action to be involved in making decisions, I’m proud of their work, and they have had to make some tough calls.”

According to Zundel, in his last few months in office, he will be focusing on developing a budget plan for the university in the face of financial challenges.

“These are challenging financial times right now, but we are still doing incredible things.”

In July, Dr. Robert Haché will become Laurentian’s 11th president and vice-chancellor. Haché is the current vice-president of Research and Innovation at York University.

“[Dr. Haché] has an incredible opportunity [at Laurentian] to lead a place where the staff and the faculty care so much about what we do in our mission, and I hope that he enjoys the time that he has here, because Laurentian is an amazing place.”

Zundel said that the president of the university is the “chief storyteller” and that is the part of the job he will miss the most.

“There [are so many] amazing and cool [things] going on [at Laurentian],” Zundel said.

“One of the things I’ve had the privilege to do in the last year and a half is to go around this institution and talk to students, talk to faculty members and staff members about what they do and tell their stories.”

So, what is next for Pierre Zundel? He has a few options, but he said he has not had the chance to decide, yet.

“Right now, my options are to return as the vice-president and academic in provost or I can become a University research chair in the scholarship of teaching and learning,” Zundel said.

“I’m so busy doing this work, and I’ll have to decide in the next couple months what I [choose] to do.”