New president talks student life, guitar chords, replacing Marshall
by Rachael Frey
The first time David Docherty visited Mount Royal University, it was cold and snowing heavily on a Saturday evening. Because of the weather and the time of day, he didn’t expect much to be happening around campus, but decided to stroll around by himself to get a feel for the school’s atmosphere.
As he wandered the halls, he was pleasantly surprised to find the campus alive with groups of students studying and chatting together. He observed younger non-university students lugging their instruments inside to perform in the conservatory and made his way to Wyckham House where a band was setting up to play.
As Docherty took in his first glimpses of the school, he said he thought to himself, “this is a great university that clearly has a strong connection to the community.”
“I was anticipating the campus to be much quieter than it was given the weather conditions, yet it didn’t deter students from doing what they do best,” Docherty said. “It seemed to me that it was a very lively campus and that was a real turn-on.”
“It confirmed what I thought about Mount Royal, and I thought, ‘well, this seems to be the kind of place where you look forward to going into work every day.”
On March 10, Docherty was announced as Dave Marshall’s sucessor as Mount Royal’s ninth president. He’ll be moving to Calgary from Waterloo, Ontario to start his term on Aug. 1. Docherty said he was “thrilled and honoured” when he heard Mount Royal’s presidential search committee had recommended him.
“I must say, it’s the only one I applied to,” Docherty said. “I jumped all over it because I think Mount Royal actually has so much going for it and I’ve always admired their emphasis on teaching and learning.
“Even from a distance, I was well aware of Mount Royal’s reputation.”
Academic and administrative history
Docherty has an extensive history with Wilfrid Laurier University, where he began working in 1994 as an assistant professor in the political science department. By 2001, he was the chair of his department and he took the position of dean in the faculty of arts in 2005.
In 2009, his career at Laurier resulted in the role of senior advisor to the president and vice-president, where he focused on multi-campus initiatives to serve Laurier’s four different campus locations.
Docherty is also an alumnus of Laurier, completing his undergraduate degree in political science before going on to get his graduate degree at McMaster University and his PhD at the University of Toronto, both in political science.
Cathy Williams, chair of the presidential search committee, said the decision was difficult because there were a number of strong candidates, but Docherty was chosen because he has an all-around impressive professional background and many of the important qualities they were looking for.
“He is someone who truly believes that post-secondary has a big role to play, and he has a very good understanding of what a university really needs,” Williams said. “I think he’ll really make a strong president.”
The future of MRU
Marshall is often quoted as saying Mount Royal’s intent is to become Canada’s premier undergraduate institution, which is something Docherty sounded enthusiastic about. He said he sees it as a very ambitious, yet highly achievable goal given the strengths that already exist at Mount Royal.
Marshall, who’s retiring from his presidency after eight years, said he’s confident that Docherty is the right man to make the school’s vision a reality.
“Everybody’s focused on that and we all know that’s our aspiration,” Marshall said. “We’re all trying to figure out what the pieces are that we need to put together in order to achieve that aspiration.
“I think David will be a great leader to put the pieces of that puzzle together.”
Docherty stressed his first step as president will be to get to know the people of Mount Royal and listen to what they have to say.
“The main thing that I have to do for the first few months, which I’m looking forward to, is meeting everybody,” Docherty said. “It’s important to be open-minded and to listen.
“It’s important to understand what’s going on without micro-managing people’s responsibilities, and that’s something that I hope will define my style.”
From what he’s seen of MRU so far, he said one particular opportunity for improvement is the size of the library and he praised the library staff for providing the services they do in such a limited physical space.
“I’ve always thought that libraries are the intellectual heart of a university. Making sure that the library has enough space and resources to properly serve the number of students and the various programs is something that is critical, and I’m hoping to be involved in that process.”
Filling Marshall’s shoes
“I had joked that it might have been a little easier if I could have found one person on campus who had the least bit of a critical thing to say about Dave Marshall,” Docherty said. “He seems to be so well-liked; those are big shoes to fill.
“At the same time, I think when you’re taking over for someone who really engaged the students and engaged the faculty, it sets out a fairly nice template of the things you should do. My sense of Dave is that he’s kind of a role model for how a president should function.”
Robert Jones, president of the students’ association, served as a member of the presidential search committee on behalf of the student body. He said the SA has enjoyed a “Phenomenal relationship” with Marshall.
“Students have a say in every decision the university makes,” Jones said. “It’s been nothing short of fantastic.
“Dave has a mantra that he talks about — students, students, students — but he also practices what he preaches. He’s been very open, honest, transparent, and has really been willing to consult with students and find out what they want and deliver it.”
Jones said it was important the new president be someone who would maintain the focus on students that has made Mount Royal great for 100 years.
“Whoever the individual was that was selected as president would be required to foster and further develop an already amazing relationship between students and administration at Mount Royal, so that was a key consideration for the SA and for myself,” he said.
Docherty was the VP of Laurier’s Student Union in 1983-84, and he said that “having a good relationship with the body that represents student interests is critically important.”
Life in Alberta
Career and institution changes aside, Docherty said he’s looking forward to settling into his new home. He’s visited Alberta on numerous occasions and has always loved Calgary.
Docherty’s currently a member of a rock band, along with other Laurier faculty members, called “No Fixed Address.” He said he would love to be a part of a band in Calgary, with one qualification: “They have to be willing to put up with a guitar player who rarely moves beyond the chords G, C and D.”
As for how long Docherty intends to stay in Alberta and at Mount Royal, he said, “It’s certainly my intention to make Calgary my home for at least the next dozen or so years, which will hopefully take me close to retirement.
“I’m planning to stay as long as you’ll have me.”