Memorial University made a historic choice in selecting its 13th president and vice-chancellor — Vianne Timmons, who has held the same position for the last 11 years at the University of Regina, was announced Thursday as the successor to current president Gary Kachanoski.
Kachanoski was due to end his nine-year stint with the university this month, but has reportedly agreed to stay on until Timmons officially takes over April 1, 2020.
With Thursday's announcement, made at the school's Signal Hill Campus, Timmons becomes the first woman to be named a president at Memorial in its 94-year history.
"I am thrilled that Memorial decided to go with a woman," Timmons told reporters shortly after she was introduced to the public Thursday. "I think I'll use one of the federal government's comments — it's 2019. I think it's an important time to recognize that there are women and men leaders in our country."
Timmons grew up in Labrador City (her father worked in the local mine) and said she has always considered herself to be from Labrador. She is also of Mi'kmaq descent — her great-grandmother came from a Mi'kmaw family in Nova Scotia.
On accepting the job, Timmons said she was excited to take on a new challenge after 11 years leading the way at the University of Regina.
"I had a fabulous experience there and this opportunity to come home and lead this amazing institution came along and I'm so thrilled that it worked out," Timmons said.
Timmons has an academic background in education and completed her PhD at the University of Calgary in educational psychology. She worked at St. Francis Xavier University and the University of Prince Edward Island prior to accepting her current job in Saskatchewan.
Her five-year contract carries an annual salary of $450,000 plus $34,000 in allowances for transportation and housing. In a news release announcing Timmons' hiring, board of regents chair Iris Petten said this salary is in line with what comparable Canadian universities typically pay presidents.
Memorial University has dealt with significant financial challenges in recent years. In an eight-year period from 2012-13 to 2019-20, the school's operating budget had a total reduction of approximately $32 million. As of Thursday afternoon, Timmons had not spoken directly with anyone from the provincial government, though she did expect to meet with representatives later in the day.
"I don't think there's a president of a university in this country who hasn't had to deal with financial and fiscal challenges, so I anticipate we'll see them at Memorial," Timmons said. "But there's also opportunities — to look at efficiencies, to look at different ways to generate revenue — so that's an exciting time also."
Timmons said she would love to see the province boost funding to the university.
"I will always say I think funding should be increased for universities, and we have to show our value and our worth so that the public recognizes that investing in the university is investing in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador," she said. "We're an economic engine. We generate revenue for the province. We bring in people. We bring in students from all over the world."
A tuition freeze has been in place at the university since 1999. Timmons indicated she would look at the school's tuition set-up once she's in her office.
"I think it's time to have a discussion on the tuition and for me to fully understand the tuition framework and how it was put in place," she said.
As a new leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's largest post-secondary institution with lots of relevant experience in her back pocket, Timmons knows what her role will be.
"I know the challenges that are there. I know where you need to put your attention in terms of community, both internally and externally. I know how to work through financial challenges," Timmons said, adding she does have some learning to do about Memorial University's culture.
As for what students can expect from her as a new president, Timmons intends to be very visible.
"I will be walking the halls and hopefully meeting lots and lots of students," she said. "I'm a big advocate for student quality of life and student supports, so they will see an ongoing investment in supports for students — especially students of today, many of them who have lots of challenges in terms of thinking about potential work and careers and debt load. They will always have an ear and an advocate in me."