Ties that bind and open access
“There are probably few universities who can say they’ve had the consistent support of a particular family for 80 years. It is a truly remarkable phenomenon and is deeply, gratefully received by the university.”
That’s how Concordia president Alan Shepard described the university’s relationship with Montreal’s Birks family at a reception October 17 in the university’s R. Howard Webster Library. The event celebrated the Birks family and Birks Family Foundation as innovators and longstanding Concordia supporters.
The event featured a short video presentation depicting the Birks family history and its ties to Concordia and an explanation of Open Access.
Marie Claire Morin, vice-president, Advancement and Alumni Relations, welcomed the 50 guests. “2012 is a significant year for us,” she said. “It marks the 20th anniversary of the R. Howard Webster Library and the J.W. McConnell Building, home of the Birks Student Service Centre.”
The Birks-Concordia ties date back to the 1930s, when Gerald W. Birks served on the Board of Governors of Sir George Williams College, one of the university’s founding institutions. Since then, Birks family members and the Birks Family Foundation have donated their time, money and name to myriad university causes such as bursaries, the libraries, Birks Student Service Centre and Centre for the Arts in Human Development.
Gerald’s descendants, Evan and Jonathan Birks, and several other family members were on hand for the event. Evan Birks related that Gerald, rather than follow his father and brothers into their successful Henry Birks and Sons jewellery business, devoted his life to the YMCA. The Y’s educational program evolved into Sir George Williams College.
“Henry was known to have said, ‘Every successful family should be able to donate one son to the benefit of the public good,’” Evan quipped.
He also praised Concordia librarian Gerald Beasley for his vision and advocacy for the Open Access initiative, which aims to make publicly funded research findings available for free on the internet. In 2012, the Birks Family Foundation donated $150,000 to Concordia Libraries to help finance the effort.
Two years ago, Concordia became the first major Canadian university with an Open Access mandate supported by its faculty members.
“Gerald Beasley has been a leading proponent for the implementation of Open Access internationally, and the leading force at Concordia,” Birks said. “His idea of implementing Open Access at Concordia became very exciting to us at the foundation.”
Beasley explained that the goal of the event was to thank the Birks for their years of support as well as for their farsightedness. “It’s about celebrating the past but only in the concept that the Birks family has always and consistently thought about the future in deciding where to put its support,” he said.
Alan Shepard also spoke of the significance of the university’s involvement with Open Access. “This is the kind of work that will keep Concordia on the cutting edge. This type of progressive thinking will play an essential role in allowing Concordia to become even more relevant to society,” he said.
“The universities that are going to do well in the next epoch are universities like Concordia. They’re going to be embedded in the culture. They’re going to be urban universities. And there’s going to be porous borders between what’s going on in the university and what’s going on outside. That is Concordia in 2012, and it’s Concordia going forward,” Shepard said.
An archival exhibit representing the life and work of Gerald W. Birks will be displayed on the second floor of the Webster Library until November 1.