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Meet Graham Carr, Concordia’s provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs

February 9, 2017
By Leslie Schachter

Graham Carr had been holding down two Concordia jobs for five months. All that changed on October 1, 2016, when he officially took over as the university’s provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs.

Graham Carr Graham Carr: “I think the acceleration — explosion, really — of research and creative activity is one of the dramatic differences between the Concordia I came to in 1983 and the Concordia the world sees in 2017.”

Carr, who became VP of Research and Graduate Studies in August 2012, has served in several senior administrative positions at Concordia, including dean of Graduate Studies. He is also a professor in the Department of History.

The incoming provost took a few minutes to offer his thoughts on Concordia and its place within the academic landscape of North America and beyond.

Can you tell us a bit about your own background?

Graham Carr: “I’m a lifer at Concordia! I’ve been here since 1983, when I was given a 10-month contract to teach history — and a few decades later I’m still happy to be here. Prior to arriving at Concordia, I did my graduate degrees at Queen’s University in Kingston and the University of Maine. As a professor, I teach North American cultural history and I do research on Cold War cultural diplomacy.”

In your years at Concordia, what are some of the most striking changes you’ve seen?

GC: “The most visibly striking change in the university is the infrastructure, the architecture, the buildings — on both campuses. When I came to Concordia, we were almost an underprivileged university in terms of the kinds of facilities that we had available. Now, on both campuses, we have enviable buildings for teaching, learning and research.

The other massive change is the terrific growth and size of the institution. We’re now one of the larger comprehensive universities in Canada, with a student body of more than 46,000 students. And the shift to put more emphasis on graduate studies and graduate students, who now number around 8,000, is another big transformation for us.”

You served as interim provost this summer, while retaining your position at Research and Graduate Studies. What observations did you make about your new role?

GC: “I had the chance to take an integrated perspective on two of the most important academic portfolios within the university. The provost portfolio is very much focused on program and curriculum development, on student success  and training, and developing innovative ways to deliver knowledge in society.

The research portfolio really helps to expand Concordia’s reputation both locally and internationally because of the innovative and successful research and creative activity that we’re doing.

I’ve always dealt with faculty deans as the VP for Research and Graduate Studies, but the conversations I’ve had with them as provost are different conversations. They’ve brought me face to face with the challenges of a university in a highly competitive market, reaching out to students and the larger community and making an impact by developing new and innovative teaching and learning strategies.”

What are some of Concordia’s major strengths and challenges for academics and research?

GC: “Key words anywhere in the academic world today are convergence, collaboration, community, integration, internationalization, creativity and innovation — and at Concordia we have a pretty good track record in all of those areas.

Our challenge as we move to plant the flag as Canada’s next-generation university is to make those concepts become our goals and objectives. How do we become better aligned? How do we better integrate our research and teaching activities?

How do we develop the convergence that allows students, faculty members and professionals from across departments and disciplines to work together to address big topics in society that exceed the boundaries of any single domain?

The challenges are improving on our ability to realize those goals and doing so in a highly competitive environment. We’ve earned our reputation as one of the world’s top 100 universities under 50 years old, but when I look at the other universities on the list and some of the resources they have at their disposal, we do remarkably well on a really tight budget.

Another challenge is to find ways to derive more revenue to seed and feed innovation in the future. We have talent and ambition but we also need support to continue to be a university that’s ahead of the curve.”

How does your area of expertise as a history professor inform your role as provost?

GC: “A focus of my research has to do with internationalization, cross-border diplomacy and the density of factors that go into diplomatic activity, particularly in moments of stress like the Cold War.

Part of the essence of Cold War diplomacy was the attempt by countries to project themselves positively to audiences beyond their borders, and at the same time symbolize for their own populations what they perceived as their best qualities.

Concordia is a super exciting place and there’s a lot of creative activity going on. To be able to project that beyond the walls of the university, into the Montreal community, across Quebec and Canada, throughout North America and internationally, is absolutely vital to its success.

We have great stories to tell and we have a great audience of alumni, potential students and faculty members, current students and people who benefit from our research.  Projecting the great message about what Concordia is doing and expanding its reach to audiences around the world ties back to my own interests and research as a cultural historian.”

What excites you most about Concordia and its future?

GC: “This is for sure the best time to be here. The university is on a roll and people outside Concordia understand that we’re on the move. We have the momentum and nine strategic directions that are smart, different and achievable. It’s fun to be part of that process.

The university has changed so much in the last decades and even in the last few years. I’ve had the opportunity to meet incredible, articulate and passionate people, and to learn and be challenged to think in new ways every day. There aren’t too many businesses or organizations where one of the essential, integral characteristics is that you welcome thousands of new people every year.

There’s a constant churn of people, of new ideas, of new hope — and that’s one of the characteristics of a university.  It’s about the sense of the future, of possibility. And you see that in the influx of new students every year and our ability to recruit outstanding new faculty and staff.

That’s why the phrase ‘next generation’ is so powerful — there is always a next generation and universities are uniquely poised to reflect that.” 

—Leslie Schachter, BA 03, GrDip 13, is a Montreal freelance writer.

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