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New University Council Chair Dr. Jay Wilson (EdD) is the head of the Department of Curriculum Studies in the College of Education at USask. (Photo: James Shewaga)

New chair a good fit for Wilson

There was one magical item conspicuously absent when Dr. Jay Wilson (EdD) opened up his helpful handbook of tips and tools of the trade for serving as the new chair of University Council.

“I looked in the new chair kit and unfortunately there is no crystal ball in it,” Wilson said, with a chuckle.

For the record, Wilson is well prepared to anticipate the challenges that lie ahead as he heads the governing body that oversees and directs academic affairs for the University of Saskatchewan (USask). An award-winning College of Education professor and department head who has also served as faculty council vice-chair and led numerous council committees, Wilson is well-versed in the inner workings of USask in general, and University Council in particular, since it was established 25 years ago.

“I started to work at the campus in the same year that council was ‘born’ in 1995, so this is entering Year 25 for me,” said Wilson, who took over from acting chair Dr. Chelsea Willness (PhD) of the Edwards School of Business to become the 14th council chair in the history of the university. “I took this job on because I have been here that long and I realize the significance and importance of a well-run university. I see it as an opportunity for me to contribute, as someone who works at the university, which is a place that I value very highly. And I value participating in those systems that make up the university.”

Wilson said he also has full faith in the 116 faculty, students and senior administration members who make up council, to lead the university’s academic initiatives.

“There are always issues—good and bad—to deal with, and we just have to be proactive, not just reactive, and be prepared to deal with it,” said Wilson, who led his first council meeting on Jan. 17 after being elected in December to serve as council chair through to June 30, 2020. “There are a lot of really smart people here who are engaged as faculty members and as council members. I have great confidence that what we all do is in the best interests of our students and of the University of Saskatchewan.”

So, what makes for an effective council chair? For Wilson, it’s about striking a balance between efficiently conducting the business of council while also providing a forum for free expression and participation.

“As someone who has sat in the audience for many years, I see it as a challenge and I have seen people very skillfully stickhandle through the perils of that,” he said. “If it becomes too much of a business meeting, then there isn’t an opportunity for people to express themselves. And if it becomes a free-for-all, then absolutely, the hammer has to come down.

“I think the worst thing that could happen is people show up for council and we sit there like robots and go through the agenda and vote and nobody asks questions. I think I am a facilitator, first and foremost, and I think council is a great opportunity for people who are passionate about engaging in leadership to make a difference.”

For his part, Wilson has a proven track record of making a difference during his time on campus. Among his awards, accolades and accomplishments, Wilson received the 3M National Teaching Fellowship—the highest teaching honour in the country—in 2017, earned USask’s prestigious Master Teacher Award in 2015, was named an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2011, and was honoured as the Provost’s Outstanding New Teacher as well as the College of Education Graduates’ Choice Instructor of the Year in 2010.

In addition to his new role as council chair, Wilson’s workload includes continuing his role as head of the Department of Curriculum Studies, teaching four classes this term, and maintaining his research activities.

“It is going to be a crazy term and I will be doing it this year and next year, so I have signed up for the full meal deal, for as long as they will permit me,” said the 50-year-old Wilson, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at USask, prior to receiving his Doctor of Education through Australia’s University of Southern Queensland.

“I love teaching, so it is important for me to continue, and I have a full program of research as well. So it’s busy, but I feel if you are not engaged in all aspects of university life, then I think you are missing out and that is the reason why I have agreed to do this.”

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