Meet André Roy, dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science
André Roy, dean of Concordia’s faculty of arts and science, sees the faculty’s interdisciplinarity as an asset because of the growing need to tackle societal issues from multiple perspectives.
André Roy began his five-year term as dean of Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science in 2014. He recently sat down to share his thoughts on the faculty and its students, Concordia, and the challenges and opportunities presented by a changing higher education landscape.
Can you share a bit about your own background?
Andre Roy: “I’m a geographer by training. I completed my undergraduate and master’s degrees at Université de Montréal and then I did a PhD at SUNY [State University of New York] in Buffalo. I then was a geography professor at Université de Montréal for 30 years before becoming dean of the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo for three years.”
What are your thoughts on having a faculty that combines arts and science?
AR: “The Faculty of Arts and Science was created as a way of thinking about interdisciplinarity. Have we achieved this interdisciplinarity? In some ways yes, yet in some ways we still have a long way to go.
I believe that it really is the time of arts and science. As we deal with complex problems, such as when dealing with policy about environmental issues, we need to work out the science to support it. Arts and science gives us flexibility and lateral thinking, fewer barriers across faculties and more opportunities to exchange ideas for our students and researchers.”
What drew you to Concordia from Waterloo?
AR: “The University of Waterloo has a slightly different structure than other universities. In the late ’60s they created the Faculty of Environment, and that was a big draw for me because of its interdisciplinarity. It was a microcosm of arts and science but with a cause — social justice. But then this opportunity came up that could realign my professional side with my personal side [his partner had moved back to Montreal] in a way that could be very exciting because of Concordia’s great momentum. And so here I am.”
What are your impressions of Concordia?
AR: “Concordia is in a position of change. The Concordia I am seeing has more confidence and more drive and momentum. I always thought that Concordia was a good partner but now I think that Concordia is a great leader too. My impression is that we’re going places here.
Tradition is great but sometimes it doesn’t allow you to move quickly. It’s a really, really rapidly changing environment. The landscape in higher education is shifting and I think Concordia is positioning itself to be at the cutting edge of that change. My overall sense of mission is really that if I can facilitate where we’re going and help Concordia reach higher goals then that’s what I’d like to do.”
Can you describe some of these changes?
AR: “Funding, as you know, is difficult. It’s a constraint. Students are changing too. I’ve been an academic for 35 years and I can say that students — from when I first entered the classroom in 1981 to now — have changed. Their expectations are not the same as they once were. Their way of communicating is not the same. Their way of imagining the future is not the same. It’s not about wanting to adapt to it — we need to adapt to it. We have to think ahead and figure out who will be coming to Concordia, how we will fulfill their needs and what we can do to get ahead of that changing curve.
The whole landscape of where the students are coming from is changing too. I believe Concordia is carving a great niche for itself by having a good reflection of what is happening in the Montreal region. I think we’re a great example of this diversity and how it is enriching our higher-education environment.
Another change is technology. How do we embrace technology in terms of our thinking, our teaching? We have to have a broader horizon. The mindset of how to apply knowledge has changed. When I was in school, we didn’t think much about experiential learning. Now experiential learning is at the core — co-ops, labs, research teams, volunteering. It’s all part of the educational mindset.”
What is your vision for the Faculty of Arts and Science?
AR: “I’d like the Faculty of Arts and Science to be the place where we create and enjoy all the possibilities that knowledge can offer. That is, for a student or researcher, in any discipline, to be able to find their own way here, their potential.
I’m very big on interdisciplinarity. I believe that most of the major issues in society have to be dealt with from multiple angles. It’s about how we create those multidisciplinary teams, how we work together, how we share languages, how we understand each other. And exposing our students to this kind of thinking, these ways of doing things, is a tremendous advantage to them because regardless of their discipline they will be able to overlap and connect with others in a very meaningful way. I talk a lot about permeability, that we don’t have rigid barriers. We must allow a flow-through, laterally, not just up and down.”
What are your impressions of Concordia’s faculty and students?
AR: “I think we have a great faculty. We’ve been hiring and we continue to hire great people. I’ve met lots of them and I’m amazed at the quality of people Concordia is attracting.
Our students are great and diverse and I’d like to have a better personal connection with them.
What I like about our students is that they’re very engaged not just in their academic pursuits but with many different things. Concordia is known to be close to society and communities and I think our students embody that. Concordia is a vibrant place, it’s a place where things happen.”
What’s the best part of your job?
AR: “I try to empower people as much as I can. As a dean, I’m a facilitator. I don’t just make decisions and implement them.
The real crux of the matter is about students learning, researchers creating, the intellectual endeavour, about what’s going on in our minds. I try to find time during the week to attend events where people make you think differently. That’s a lot of fun. Just sitting in a room having this feeling, that this is what university is all about. It’s about sharing ideas and offering different views. And as a dean, to be able to see all of this happening is a great reward.”
—Leslie Schachter, BA 03, GrDip 13, is a Montreal freelance writer and photographer.