January 19th, 2022

U of L marks achievement amid challenges of pandemic


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 5, 2022.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman University president Mike Mahon reflects on a year filled with challenges and accomplishments.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

For the University of Lethbridge, 2021 was highlighted by the completion of their Shine campaign according to Mike Mahon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Lethbridge.
“We were really pleased to have our shine campaign wrap up, which you know was a campaign about raising funds to support our university more broadly and our students more specifically,” said Mahon.
He said they were able to raise over $150 million and expanded their engagement with their alumni as well.
“We achieved our goal of engaging with more than 20,000 alumni,” said Mahon.
He explained that almost 50 per cent of the funds collected through the Shine campaign went to different student initiatives, from scholarships to student mental health programs.
“At the same time, we had funding for new academic programs. For research as well as for community engagement,” said Mahon.
He highlighted the biggest donor, the MasterCard Foundation, with a donation of $15 million to support the different initiatives the university has to offer for their Indigenous community.
Another highlight Mahon noted was the fact that the Dillon School of Business announced that they are the first Business School in Canada to have a requirement that all students take a course related to Indigenous people in Canada.
“Another thing that we’re very pleased about is that we have just recently hired our first executive director for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion,” said Mahon.
He said this will really help them to build their plan around supporting EDI at the university.
He also mentioned that they were one of 40 signatories that signed on to the Scarborough Charter.
“This was a charter that was initiated by University of Toronto and at Scarborough and is really dedicated to ensuring that our university and the other 39 are dedicated to anti-black racism,” said Mahon.
He also said that they hire two new women, one as their first ever woman to be vice president of Research and Innovation, and a new vice president of Development Alumni Affairs and Community Relations, also the first woman ever to serve in that role.
Another important highlight of raising of the Blackfoot Confederacy flag permanently.
“A symbol of our commitment to engaging with our Blackfoot community but more broadly our Indigenous community,” said Mahon.
Mahon said they had many different research achievements this year, but two of note were a $1.8 million of funding from the Canada Institute for Health Research to help support their work in Alzheimer’s and dementia research, and another gift of almost $300,000 from the McCain Foundation to support sustainable agriculture scholarships for students at the graduate level.
“Sustainable agriculture being a very important part of what we do, because we’re obviously in the breadbasket of Canada here,” said Mahon.
Mahon said that while they were able to experience a lot of positives in 2021, COVID played a part on some of the challenges they faced.
“It hasn’t been easy, we’ve had to spend a heck of a lot of time and money worrying about everything from air handling systems to PPE and that’s certainly come with a cost,” said Mahon.
He said that this year in order to try to ensure they could be primarily back on campus, they introduced It’s worth a shot, which was the first program like it in Canada at a university.
“That was really about encouraging students to get vaccinated and there were some wonderful prizes including free tuition and free books and we had wonderful uptake,” said Mahon.
He said it did have the effect they were looking for and therefore as of November 1 the university was fully vaccinated.
Mahon said that last year they lost a little over $6 million both in terms of revenue from things like residences, food services and the bookstore as well as costs associated with COVID related expenses.
“This year we’ve lost a little over a million and the difference between the two is because we have students back on campus,” said Mahon.
Mahon said the other challenge for them has been budget, as over the last three years they have lost over 20 per cent of their operating budget from the government of Alberta and this has meant they lost about 10 per cent of their workforce.
“The majority were lost in non-academic areas and so we’ve worked hard to maintain our commitment to ensuring that our students are able to take the classes that they want to/ they need, to complete their academic program,” said Mahon.
He said that in no way has the cuts meant that students are unable to do that. He said it has certainly been more difficult, and they have had to work hard to get the programs to the place they need to be in terms of supporting their students.
“So, finding how best to manage through that reduction in funding has as you know, it meant that we’ve had to spend an awful lot of time looking at how we transform the university,” said Mahon.
He said they have had twenty task forces that have been looking at the transformation of the institution to be able to continue to operate with more limited resources and they are also looking at how they could bring in new sources of revenue.
Mahon said that one good thing among everything COVID related is the fact that they were able to increase their international student population, unlike many institutions across Canada which saw a decline.
“I think partly because our international offices work really hard and really work to support international students, those that wanted to continue to try to get here which they did and those that have continued online,” said Mahon.
Mahon said they want to grow their international student footprint because they believe it is important to have a diverse student population and because they think they can be one of the enablers of diversity in Lethbridge.
“I’ve seen in my 11 plus years as president both the university and the city grow from a diversity perspective and you know we’re committed to continuing to be part of the solution from that perspective,” said Mahon.

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