Meet U of A’s New Chancellor, Peggy Garritty

On June 18, 2020, Peggy Garritty is being installed as the University of Alberta’s 22nd Chancellor.

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On June 18, 2020, Peggy Garritty was installed as the University of Alberta’s 22nd Chancellor. The Quad (virtually) met with Chancellor Garritty to hear how she plans to approach the role during an important era of change for the university.

A lot has changed at the university and in the world since you were elected on March 6. What have you been doing to prepare for the role?

Since then nothing is the way that I expected it to be. I’m glad that I was elected back in March because I have had time to think about it and process this new reality. What I miss the most is seeing people face to face, going for coffee, and having really informal conversations. When on a video call it is efficient and things get done quickly, but I feel like you don’t have long, lingering, surprising conversations. And I miss being on campus! Campus has such a life of its own and it’s such a part of the whole experience of the university. It really is a community and there’s no way of substituting that. I’m hoping as we’re able to open things up a bit more that I will be able to be on campus again and get the feel of being there.

[Outgoing Chancellor] Doug Stollery has been amazing and we’ve spent so much time together. He’s shared with me not only the facts about how things work and the responsibilities, but has also given me his insights and the things that he’s learned in the last four years. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a Senate plenary and a Board of Governors meeting. I’m getting to meet people virtually. People have bent over backwards to welcome me and find different ways of doing this. I’m sure everyone is feeling the Zoom fatigue but it is so much better to get to see people and get a sense of the faces and not just voices.

What is one piece of advice from Doug Stollery that has stood out for you?

When I applied for the role, I don’t think I had a full appreciation for what chancellors do. He has provided me with so much guidance about the behind the scenes role of the chancellor and how they can be a good sounding board for the president and the board chair and others. They can really engage in hard conversations because in a way the chancellor is a neutral role. They are a strong advocate for the university but are not part of the formal academic decision-making process. That allows for the kind of relationship where you can have more difficult conversations. I’ve also learned about what the Senate has done and tried to do to build bridges to the community and how important it is, probably now more than ever, to make those connections in the broader community.

What have you personally been doing to fill time during the pandemic?

I am reading a lot. I love to read. It’s something I just do constantly. And I’m staying connected with friends and family. I just had a virtual lunch with four close friends. We all worked together in the past, but could never find the time to all go for lunch together. Now we are virtually together and it’s not a problem finding an hour to meet. Several other close friends and I have virtual wine dates.

Do you have any thoughts about how you want to approach your role?

Because so many things have changed my initial ideas needed to be reshaped. The university is going to go through a massive transformation process. President-elect Flanagan has been talking about what that process looks like very openly. What I can do is understand [his plan] and learn as much as I can from people at the university about the things they are doing and what the impact of some of these changes will be. At the same time, it is important to understand Bill’s very positive message of hope. There is no question that this will be difficult, but we need to balance that with a forward-thinking perspective that says ‘we can do this.’ As chancellor I see myself as an advocate for that plan and taking every opportunity I can to make sure that people in the community know what the university is trying to do and the path that it is on. It is the chancellor’s role to be that bridge. Now more than ever I want people in all kinds of communities to understand the value that the university brings. The stories of the value of the university and the path the university is on are the ones that need to be told, and I hope that I can help to do that.

Your installation coincides with a presidential transition. Do you have ideas for how you and President-elect Flanagan can work together?

Bill and I have had a couple virtual conversations that have been really good. I can hardly wait to meet him in person. I have a communications background so if there is any way I can help him and the whole team work out how the university is positioning some of these changes, I would like to help with some ideas.

What was your first U of A memory?

I will never forget it. I was 17 and the university felt massive and imposing. The registration process was all in-person and it took me days to get registered. I had this really good timetable all arranged on paper and had to go to each one of the departments to get admitted to each class. I didn’t get into my first class, so it threw off the whole schedule. So I would just go to departments and ask them to put in whatever classes were vacant. By the end of the week I felt exhausted and figured nothing else I could do during my degree would be as challenging. Things got better after that. You find your own places, your own people, your own pattern of things, it just takes time to figure out. When I was a student in the sociology department the Tory building was really quite new so I used to spend a lot of time there. But I loved just walking around campus and being in SUB and going to RATT.

What key message would you like to share with our faculty and staff?

I really want to listen to everyone. I want to learn about the kind of things that faculty and staff are doing. I will be involved in a lot of processes, like sitting in on General Faculties Council, so I will hear all the big picture stuff. But what I really want to know is, what are you passionate about? What do you get excited about when you go to work in the morning? Those conversations will help plant those ideas in my head, and when I’m out talking to people we don’t have to talk about those big plans everyone knows about. Instead I can say, ‘I met this person and they’re doing this.’ All of those individual ideas combined, things people are working on, together they create such an amazing story for what the university is doing and what it is all about. I really want to hear from people so I can help share those stories with as many people as I can.