The incoming interim president of Laurentian University said it’s her goal to “get the ship steady again and get it back on course” after LU recently came out of 22 months of creditor protection.
Dr. Sheila Embleton will start her role as Laurentian’s interim president Jan. 1, 2023. Working alongside Embleton will be Dr. Brenda Brouwer, who will serve as interim provost. Both are senior academics currently working at Southern Ontario universities.
They are replacing the university’s most recent president Dr. Robert Haché, and provost, Dr. Marie-Josée Berger, who departed earlier this fall as part of the terms of Laurentian’s plan of arrangement.
A press release from LU said Embleton is the recipient of many distinctions for her academic contributions, including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award.
She is a distinguished research professor of linguistics at York University, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Embleton served as vice-president academic and provost at York University (from 2000 to 2009), having previously been associate dean of the Faculty of Arts from 1994 to 2000.
Embleton spoke to Sudbury.com on Dec. 7 after her appointment became public.
She said she will focus on rebuilding Laurentian University’s reputation, on bringing “openness and transparency and a kind of collegiality” to its governance, and just generally getting “everything ready for the search for the new permanent president.”
Embleton said she hopes by the time a new permanent LU president is in place and she departs the university, Laurentian’s time under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (or CCAA) will be seen more as a “blip in the longer history” of the institution.
She said she hopes Laurentian eventually “becomes known for the right things, the things that it should be known for, maybe even the leader in certain kinds of things.”
Asked why she would be interested in leading Laurentian, even temporarily, at such a time in its history, Embleton said she’s under no illusions — it will be a “difficult and demanding” job.
“I'm not daunted by any challenges, ever,” Embleton said.
She said she sees a lot of good fundamentals at Laurentian University that intrigue her, including its unique bilingual and tricultural mandates.
“There are also some very good quality programs, and just the importance of having quality public post secondary education in the north,” Embleton said. “All of those things I see as worth preserving. And I thought I could bring something to the table.”
The incoming interim president has a formidable to-do list, which includes implementing Laurentian’s plan of arrangement to settle up with its creditors, developing a new strategic plan, transforming LU’s governance and operations, growing Laurentian’s enrolment and dealing with the university’s faculty complement, among other items.
She said she plans to start by “just meeting people and listening.”
The administrator has already hit the ground running, spending time speaking to LU leaders including Jeff Bangs, the chair of Laurentian’s board of governors, and LU administrator Tammy Eger, who has stepped in as interim president for a short period of time this fall.
Although she said she actually knows former president Haché, as he used to work at York University, where Embleton is currently employed, she has not spoken to him about the situation at Laurentian University.
Embleton is being seconded to Laurentian University from York University for the duration of her term as LU’s interim president.
Sudbury.com asked Embleton if she plans to relocate to Greater Sudbury for her time as interim LU president, and she said she does, although she will keep her Toronto home, as she’ll need a place to live once she returns to her home university.
Embleton will not be living in the university-owned John Street home traditionally occupied by LU’s presidents. She said she’s been told the home is not available at this time, so she’ll be looking for an apartment here in Greater Sudbury.
Sudbury.com also spoke to incoming interim LU provost Brenda on Brouwer Dec. 7, following the announcement of her appointment.
Like Embleton, Brouwer is being seconded to Laurentian University from her home university, which in her case is Queen’s University.
Also beginning her term at LU Jan. 1, 2023, Brouwer plans to relocate to Greater Sudbury “for the duration of the appointment.”
A press release from Laurentian said Brouwer is an accomplished academic with considerable administrative experience.
Early this year she was appointed the senior advisor of academic innovation for Queen’s Health Sciences, following nearly two years as interim dean at the Smith School of Business and eight years as vice-provost and dean of graduate studies, overseeing the expansion of credentials and resources in support of student success.
In 2018-2019, Brouwer was seconded to the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence as head of academic partnerships to cultivate relationships between Ontario universities and industry to develop talent in support of a growing artificial intelligence ecosystem.
Brouwer, a professor of rehabilitation science and neuroscience, has been recognized for teaching excellence and her research contributions on the control of movement following stroke.
Along with the interim provost title, Brouwer will also be taking on the role of interim vice-president.
As such, we asked her about a situation where professors who have quit during the CCAA process have not been replaced, compounding the mass layoffs of faculty as a result of LU’s insolvency restructuring.
Brouwer said that an examination of Laurentian’s programs and “where the needs are” will have to take place, which will indicate “where we have gaps and where faculty renewal may be required.”
She said she would love it if by the time she’s able to pass her role off to a permanent successor, LU is “an institution where there's excitement, pride, and an energy and optimism for what the future holds, and it's on stable footing, that it has the resources and the capacity to grow, and realize its aspirations.”
At a speech presented to the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce in November, LU board chair Jeff Bangs said he expects the interim Laurentian leaders will be in place throughout 2023. It’s hoped that in 2024, new leaders will be in place in those positions.
Concurrent with the arrival of Embleton and Brouwer, the search process for their permanent replacements will soon begin, one that is guided by a rigorous and transparent framework involving both internal and external stakeholder groups, said a press release from LU.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.