Guiding SJU in a Changing World

Board of Governors Chair, Mike Pautler On Being Stewards of the Community

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The world is in recovery mode. As the global community emerges from the devastating social and economic impacts of the pandemic, there is much discussion about what that looks like at the university and what possibilities exist to build back better in every context. While much of the work of St. Jerome’s University’s Board of Governors over the last two years has been focused on meeting the immediate challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, the Chair of the Board of Governors, Mike Pautler, affirmed that the Board’s primary responsibility as stewards of the community must be focused on a longer horizon.

“In addressing the challenges posed by the global pandemic, the university needed to adapt quickly and respond creatively to continue to serve the student community,” noted Pautler. “The Board has supported the leadership of St. Jerome’s in meeting all these challenges while ensuring that our commitment to maintaining and supporting the entire community has not jeopardized nor undermined the long-term financial viability and sustainability of the university. The Board is proud of the way that the entire community worked together to meet this challenge.”

A Critical Role

Pautler is not new to guiding change within organizations. He is a Catholic educator with over 40 years of experience, who was the Director of Education for Halton Catholic District School Board at the time when the Hamilton Diocesan Partnership was established, involving SJU, the Diocese of Hamilton, and seven School Boards. He recently retired from the role of Executive Director for the Ontario Institute for Catholic Education (ICE), an organization that plays a role overseeing and coordinating the activities and interests of the partner organizations and associations that collectively share responsibility for Kindergarten to Grade 12 publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario. In July 2021, he assumed the elected role as the Chair of the Board of Governors at SJU after working as a Board member since 2019.

Like most universities, SJU has adopted a bicameral system of governance. Responsibilities are shared between the Senate Council, which has authority for decisions affecting academic programs and related policies, and the Board of Governors. The Board has responsibility to act in a ‘trust’’ stewardship role to safeguard the long-term viability of St. Jerome’s, integrity with the Mission, Vision and legislated objects of the university, and to ensure that the university fulfills its financial and legal obligations. 

During the pandemic many of the University’s time-honoured traditions needed to be reimagined. Faculty needed to find innovative ways to deliver engaging and impactful programs, and staff had to work collaboratively to ensure continuity of critical services and supports in creative ways. Students needed to stay engaged with their studies, focused on their work and connected with both instructors and one another, all while contending with the physical, financial, and social impact of the constraints imposed by measures taken for public health. As post-secondary institutions begin to return to a “new normal”, Pautler recognizes their importance in a world recovering. 

“Universities have a critical role to play in the building, and rebuilding of society, and St. Jerome’s, as a public university grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, has a particular contribution and perspective to contribute to this critical societal conversation,” he noted.

Transformational Work

In 2020, the Board initiated a process of consultation and engagement as part of the preparation for the University’s next strategic plan, which will be finalized sometime early in the coming year. Pautler described this planning cycle as “critically important as we look at the transformational work that we must undertake to guide St. Jerome’s in a changing world.” 

Pautler identified that every day the Board works to ensure that St. Jerome’s is an inclusive community that welcomes, encourages and supports each individual, regardless of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, disability or social class. While in detail the strategic plan will guide the next five years of growth at the university, in scope and design it necessarily takes a long-term view, establishing the foundations upon which new initiatives and directions can be discerned and brought to life.

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“Precisely because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive, each member of our extended St. Jerome’s community, individually and collectively, shares a responsibility to treat everyone with care and respect and to value and celebrate differences. For the Board of Governors, this is not only our shared belief but represents a call to action because ultimately our community will be judged on our concrete actions rather than simply our good intentions.”

As the St. Jerome’s community participates in the conversation about its future directions, identifies immediate and long-term priorities, and commits to specific plans of action that will move the university forward, Pautler also knows that the Board has another significant responsibility. 

“We must remain committed to nurturing the ability of our students to think critically and to the work of inspiring them to become life-long learners who seek knowledge and truth, act with compassion, and advocate for human dignity for all.

“The future holds great promise,” affirmed Pautler. “In a community rich in diversity, situated within a world now more acutely aware of injustice and inequity, there is opportunity for St. Jerome’s to be an important voice in the critical societal conversation, and even more importantly, for us to put that voice at the service of the common good.”