Graham Carr: ‘We’re anchored in the community — and transforming society’
In 1983, when Graham Carr joined the Department of History at Concordia, it was a university in transition. A new university, reflecting the values of a changing society, that brought together two long-standing and highly respected schools of thought to create a contemporary and comprehensive institution.
Today, as Carr steps fully into his role as president and vice-chancellor of Concordia, he can look ahead to the university’s fast-approaching 50th anniversary — and beyond — and see a sustained commitment to remain at the forefront of higher education.
“Being a next-gen university means grasping the power of positive and meaningful change,” says Carr, whose five-year term at Concordia’s helm began on December 12. “It’s about re-examining and re-imagining what we do on an almost daily basis so that we increase our momentum and continue to offer high-quality, meaningful learning and research opportunities to students, faculty and our entire community.”
When Carr was formally appointed at the end of 2019, Norman Hébert Jr., chair of the Board of Governors, remarked that Carr had emerged as the search committee’s “overwhelming top choice.”
“Graham is already beloved within our community,” Hébert Jr. said. “He brings that knowledge and those existing ties as well as his constant drive, imagination and curiosity to the position.”
Carr’s institutional track record includes key support for the $250-million Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen. Now. He also played a central role in developing the nine strategic directions that guide this phase in the next-generation university’s evolution and have helped Concordia rank first in North America in the QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) World University Rankings Top 50 Under 50 for a second consecutive year.
Carr’s five-year term will take him to an important milestone. The year 2024 marks a half-century since Concordia was founded, in 1974, with the merger of Loyola College and Sir George Williams University.
“I would like to see us continue to expand interdisciplinary research in areas such as health, cities, cybersecurity, and new media arts and digital culture,” says Carr.
“We will also continue to pursue the indigenization and decolonization of our institution. And I am extremely pleased to note that our community’s shared value around sustainability is increasingly evident across the university’s activities, from physical services to curriculum and research and, of course, to the Concordia University Foundation’s commitment to holding 100 per cent sustainable investments by 2025.”
Carr also wants to double down on the university’s flair for experimental innovation. The goal is to provide further transformative opportunities to students and society — from the District 3 Innovation Centre, where half of startup founders are women, to the Institute for Investigative Journalism, whose “Tainted Water” project prompted government action across the country.
“The more we can partner with other knowledge brokers in society, the more we can amplify our impact on individuals and on communities both locally and around the world,” he says. “This impact needs to be highlighted, recognized and celebrated.”
Carr cites the Saputo family’s recent $10-million gift to form the SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation. SHIFT will allow Concordia and community partners to power grassroots social projects in Montreal, Quebec and Canada. The centre’s broad mission includes offering support for projects focused on social and institutional changes, and providing a space where students, staff, faculty and community members can collaborate.
“SHIFT illustrates one of the many ways we can engage by playing the role of trusted relationship broker to convene and mobilize community groups and stakeholders.” Crucially, adds Concordia’s president, the establishment of a centre like SHIFT demonstrates how the Campaign for Concordia’s fundraising efforts create “the capacity to do things we couldn’t do otherwise and to make them sustainable in the long term.”
“Many initiatives at Concordia depend on the generosity of donors because they don’t fully fit into classic government funding models,” says Carr. “And yet we know that those are also the areas where we can experiment and do precisely the things that government, industry and society are asking for.”
Alumni and other donors have a critical role to play in bolstering other priorities, such as broadening access to the university through student awards, continuously improving student life through various support services and improving on-campus facilities.
But ultimately, Carr says, “every Concordia grad can contribute by being an ambassador wherever they are in the world.”
The value of a Concordia education continues to rise with the university’s reputation rankings and, as the president notes, that’s an achievement the entire Concordia community can celebrate.
“Tell the story about what a great place Concordia is. Tell the story about what a transformative experience the university can provide. And tell the story about the transformative effect we have in society. If we get 225,000 people spreading that message, we can have an even greater impact.”