Dr. Peter J. Ricketts,
President and Vice-Chancellor

President's Installation Address


Madame Chancellor, Chancellor emeritus, Chair of the Board of Governors, members of the platform party, members of the Acadia Board of Governors, members of the Acadia Senate and faculty, members of Acadia’s staff and administration, students, representatives of universities and colleges, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen – good afternoon and welcome; kwé; pjila’si.

I am enormously grateful to the Board of Governors and to Acadia University for bestowing upon me the great honour and privilege of becoming its 16th President and Vice-Chancellor. When I came to Canada in 1978 for a 9-month lectureship at the University of Windsor, never intending to stay, I would never have imagined that I would be standing here today being installed as a university president. Nor a year later when I arrived in Halifax for another nine-month appointment at Saint Mary’s University, basically on my way home to England, did I think that I would still be in Nova Scotia today let alone President of Acadia. This is an honour that I am delighted to accept but I am very cognizant of the tremendous responsibility that comes with this office. Bart Giamatti, when he was President of Yale in the early 1980s, described the Presidency of a university as a mediaeval ecclesiastical position running a modern 20th century corporation. I have always felt that he was not far from the truth in describing the complexities of leading a university in the modern age.

The individuals who have previously held the position of Acadia’s President have been part of an incredible journey that has seen this institution grow out of nothing to become the renowned university that it is today. I would like to recognize the 13th President of Acadia and now Canadian Senator, Dr. Kelvin Ogilvie who is here with his wife Roleen; and although not able to be present today, I would like to pay tribute to Dr. James Perkin, the 12th President who still resides in Wolfville and with whom I had the great honour to meet for the first time recently, and my immediate predecessor, Ray Ivany, who also still lives in Wolfville. Jim, Kelvin and Ray each made significant contributions to the development of Acadia, and I am proud and very lucky to be the current beneficiary of their astonishing legacies. Let’s give them a round of applause.

I am also very pleased to let you know that just this morning, we heard the news that Ray Ivany will receive the Order of Nova Scotia. I am lucky to have so many former Presidents of Acadia within spitting distance of the campus, and to know that I can seek their advice. Of course, if I had sought their advice they might have advised me not to hold my installation on Friday the thirteenth!

Next year, Acadia will celebrate its 180th birthday and I am grateful that this milestone will occur during the early days of my term as President. In 1838, this university was founded by a small group of Baptists who had been excluded from the existing universities at the time and they set up a separate college in what was then called Mud Creek. I am grateful, as I am sure you are Your Worship, that the community changed its name to Wolfville, as the President of Mud Creek University doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Interestingly, the original name of Acadia was Queen’s College but this was rejected by Queen Victoria, who didn’t want her name to be associated with an institution founded by “dissenters”. This was good news for my good friend Daniel Woolf the current Principal of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (which was instead given the name by Her Majesty in 1841) but at the time it was a bit of a blow to the fledgling college in Mud Creek. So they looked for a new name, and Acadia was chosen. This name reflected the region in which the new institution was located, and likely had something to do with the fact that the Acadians who settled here from the L’Acadie region of France were also viewed as dissenters prior to their internment at Grand Pré and subsequent deportation, but the name also reflects the religious connection to ancient Arcadia, the land of milk and honey and pastoral beauty where it was said that paradise on Earth was established. How fitting indeed, given the beautiful region of Canada in which we are located and the amazing campus that is, in my own unbiased opinion, the most beautiful setting of any university in Canada. We must be so grateful to the founders and original benefactors of Acadia who secured this incredible property and, despite having no resources, were able to construct noble buildings that did justice to the site and to the institution that they were creating. Because the founders had to raise every penny that was necessary to build it, Acadia was known as the university that was built without money. I am tempted to make a joke about the fact that some things never change, but I will resist for this particular occasion. In fact, I want to recognize that despite the continued financial restraints that are placed upon our provincial government, they have continued to invest in Nova Scotia’s universities, and we are grateful for that investment – and look forward to more of it!

I am overjoyed to see so many family and friends here today, and so many from the Acadia community and beyond. I cannot mention you all by name because we would be here for the rest of the day, but please permit me to name a few. First, my wife Maryann without whom I could never have been able to take on the various roles I have played in senior university administration, and my son Sean and daughter Danielle of whom I am so proud. I love you all and I am so grateful for the joy and happiness that you have brought to my life. I am so happy that my brother Michael and sister-in-law, and Ann, have come all the way from England to witness this event today. Thank you so much for making the trip – you probably felt that you had to see this with your own eyes in order to believe it. I am sad that our parents cannot be here today as they have both long passed, but I will always be thankful for their love and the sacrifices they made to ensure that Michael and I both had a good education. I am sure they are watching and I hope they are proud of their two sons today. Also making the trip from England is our long-time friend Alan Turle who still lives in our home town of Bournemouth, and continues to shout for us at every home game of our little soccer team AFC Bournemouth that now plays in the Premier League. As this is Alan’s first visit to Canada and Michael and Ann’s first visit to Nova Scotia let’s show them a rousing Maritimes welcome.

There are so many of you here today who have been part of my life and career for almost 40 years. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all so much for your presence here today, and to all those who are watching the live stream or will watch at a future time. I would especially like to mention Maryann’s mum and dad, Ray and Jean Worobetz who cannot make the journey from Comber, Ontario to be here today in person but who have made me feel so much part of their family over so many years.

One other person who cannot be here due to work commitments is Steve Salmons, who was my first friend in Canada and my Best Man at our wedding. In sending me his deep regrets for not being able to be here today, he wrote something that I want to read out to you. He said, and I quote, “Beyond the great responsibility for the administrative lead, I think your greatest duty is the continued, passionate pursuit of truth in knowledge... to instill an enthusiasm to reveal its majesty, and to expose pretensions disguised as truth. Create this in Acadia, and you will have served both faculty and students, well. You will also have been true to yourself. As you always have been”, end quote. In describing my fundamental mission as President of Acadia, I could not have said it any better.

We are living in a world today when fundamental truths are being questioned, where alternative facts and truth are being proclaimed as having meaning and deserving of serious reflection; where the distinction between fact and fiction is being blurred – I am almost expecting bookstores to start having an Alternative Facts section right between the Fact and Fiction sections, where the customer gets to decide which books fit under the Fact or Fiction categories. This is indeed a confusing and challenging time for all of us, but especially for our young students who have to sort out the mess of language, rhetoric, and absurdities that are part of our political and societal dialogue today. How do we respond to these challenges? How do we educate our students to know how to cope with them and how to see through the “pretentions disguised as truth.”

Universities have always been about the search for truth and knowledge, although we have never been perfect at pursuing that lofty goal - how could we be? - the pursuit of excellence is a continuous and never ending task. However, we have tried and for over a thousand years universities have evolved to become increasingly important contributors to civil society and socio-economic prosperity. The history of the university is a phenomenal story of resilience and adaptability.

A past friend and colleague, the late Jules LaPidus who was a long-serving President of the Council of Graduate Schools in the USA, introduced me to a beautifully written book called The Leopard by Guisseppi di Lampedusia and in particular quote that aptly defines the struggle that universities endure. Set in Sicily in the 1860s during the time of Garibaldi and his red shirted army rebellion, it tells the story of a Sicillian prince called Don Fabrizio, a powerful and thoughtful man who is growing old in a rapidly changing world. In a famous scene, he is talking with Tancredi, his young nephew and ward, and much to the Prince’s surprise and consternation, Tancredi announces that he is going to join up with Garibaldi and fight with the rebels. The Prince asks how his own nephew can join up with those whose aim was to bring down the very structures of society and power upon which their wealth and position were derived. Tancredi replies to his uncle in the following manner: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”. This quote has great application to much of what goes on in the life of a university. There is so much in our university that is based upon tradition – this ceremony reflects the tradition that dates back to the 11th century with the founding of the very first university in Bologna in 1088, and the establishment of Oxford University in 1096. Look around our beautiful campus, and you see tradition embedded in the very fabric of Acadia. Yet if tradition meant that we remained the same, we would have lost all of this long ago. The expansion of knowledge through teaching and research is fundamentally about change. What has allowed universities to endure through time has been the ability to balance tradition with change; to identify what provides continuity as we progress through a rapidly changing world. “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.

As I have explored this incredible university, I see an institution that is steeped in history and tradition and yet is engaged in the leading edge of modernity through the teaching and research which constitute the core of its educational mission. Within this 19th century university we are providing a 21st century education to our students, and one of the main reasons for that is a fundamental change that has occurred especially in the past two decades. Even in my lifetime, the university was viewed and viewed itself as an “ivory tower”, with a monastic detachment from the world and set apart in order to be able to be able to seek truth and knowledge and pursue excellence without contamination from the outside world. In the not too distant past, the boundaries of this beautiful campus may not have had physical walls but it certainly had virtual walls that kept the university separate and separated from the town and rest of society. Today, those virtual walls have dissolved as the knowledge-based economy has become the norm and the role of the university has become more central to everyday life, not something set apart. I have very quickly discovered that today, Acadia is not just about what goes on within the confines of this campus. Today, Acadia is in the town of Wolfville and this region around us; Acadia is in the businesses and industries that work to generate wealth and prosperity for society; Acadia is in the heart and soul of the burgeoning wine industry right here in the valley; Acadia is in the not-for-profit organizations that work and volunteer to support our community and help those less fortunate and who need assistance; Acadia is in government at local, provincial and national levels; Acadia is right across Canada and in many countries where are faculty and students undertake research and learning, gaining valuable life and work experiences that become embedded within their education; Acadia is around the world through our almost 40 thousand alumni who are proud ambassadors for their alma mater. And the world and the community are right here at Acadia as well – through international students from over 60 countries who are studying here on campus; through the amazing support that we get from our community for our athletics teams, through our fitness and recreational facilities and the sports and fitness camps that so many people of all ages enjoy; through the numerous community events that occur on campus, the renowned Wolfville Farmers’ Market, the exciting and brilliant performances at the Acadia Festival Theatre, the unique Harriet Irving botanical gardens and the beautiful K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre which are not only helping Acadia engage in critical research that is benefitting our world and society, but are now recognized as among the leading tourist destinations in Nova Scotia. We do all this with support from the community and from those who give generously of their experience, time and money. I would like to take this moment to recognize the presence today of our Chancellor Emeritus, Arthur Irving, and his wife Dr. Sandra Irving and daughter Sarah Irving, whose incredible generosity and support of Acadia University cannot be put adequately into words.

So, Acadia has not only embraced change, it is actually leading change: it is truly a university of the 21st century, and yet we have also held dear those traditions and values that have given us our own unique culture and character, that define us as a university, and that make Acadia so special.

From its very beginning Acadia has represented the best in academic achievement combined with strong social and cultural development of its students in the context of a values-based education. Today, the concept of a values-based education is not without controversy or criticism – after all, whose values are we using upon which to base our education? Are they not the values of the privileged and the powerful, of those who use values to exclude and oppress others who are not like them? Well, as I mentioned, Acadia was founded by dissenters, who were excluded by the existing values of society at the time. Despite the discrimination that the founding Baptists had experienced, or perhaps because of it, Acadia was established as a university that according to its original charter was “open and free to all and every Person and Persons whomsoever, without regard to religious persuasion”. Acadia was among the first universities in Canada (indeed in the British Empire) to graduate a woman, Clara Belle Marshall who received her BA in 1884, and by 1908, one hundred women had graduated from Acadia; and in 1892 Edwin Borden became the first African-Canadian to graduate from Acadia. Indeed, Acadia has a proud tradition of educational inclusion and diversity dating from a time when that was not the norm.

Today, Acadia is a secular public university and has been since 1966, but the Acadia Divinity College is one of the lasting legacies of those Baptist visionaries who established this university as an inclusive and welcoming liberal arts college. The mission of Acadia to “inspire a diversity of students to become critical thinkers, lifelong learners, engaged citizens, and responsible global leaders”, reflects what the founders envisaged back in the early 19th century, but is now placed into the context of a modern, 21st century, global university. The partnership and close relationship with the Divinity College, and the beautiful chapel in which we are now gathered, are important components of Acadia’s history, its present reality, and its future. “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.

The values that we share today and that we owe to our founders transcend religious, ethnic, and cultural differences; and as with all good traditions, they defy time but only because we interpret them and apply them differently than in the past: they include the pursuit of excellence; community citizenship; integrity and strong leadership; learning and advancing knowledge across boundaries; collaboration and collegiality; respectful relationships; openness to change and diversity; vigorous and respectful discourse; sustainability and environmental stewardship; creativity, drive and innovation; human rights and social justice; and a deep concern for the common good of humankind.

Acadia’s motto is In pulvere vinces, which literally translates as “in dust you win”, and it means that through effort you succeed. It relates not only to how this university was built from nothing and how on numerous occasions the only thing that stood in the way of Acadia going under was the sheer determination and perseverance of those who were not about to let that happen; but it also relates to the ethic of hard work and resilience, that everyone needs in order to succeed in life. Acadia puts action into thought and thought into action – to success you need to get your hands a bit dirty; you cannot stand at the sidelines of life and expect this to happen.

These are the values that that we try to instill in each and every one of our students as they pursue their education here at Acadia, and they are values that are directly relevant to the modern world in which we live, and the world that will continue to change as our students graduate and live their lives; indeed, we seek to graduate students who will themselves be leaders of change and help our world become a better place for everyone. We are proud of our values, yet we must not be complacent about them. They are not comfortable values and they are not static values – they are challenging and they constantly require us to rethink how we act and behave. The way we apply those values today are quite different from Acadia’s early days. Our founders were visionary, without doubt ahead of their time, but their interpretation of values such as inclusivity and diversity were very different from how we apply them today - “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.

Today, we are challenged to demonstrate how our values relate to our relationship with our Indigenous peoples. I am pleased to see that Acadia’s values have a lot of consistency with values that during my career I have heard expressed by Indigenous elders and leaders from across Canada. But it is not enough for me to assume that this is the case, and it is important for us at Acadia, as it is for all Canadian universities, to ensure that are values are aligned so that we can develop a new and positive relationship with Indigenous people. We can only do that by listening to and working with Indigenous Canadians. In my first three months at Acadia, I am proud of what I see happening at the university in this regard, and indeed what I see happening in Nova Scotia. I am honoured today by the presence of Chief Sid Peters of the Glooscap First Nation, as I am honoured by the fact that our university is located in Mi’kma’ki, the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq. Acadia is proud to fly the Grand Council flag of the Mi’kmaq above University Hall, as a recognition our respect for and recognition of the Mi’kmaq First Nation and the traditional territory. The President’s Advisory Council on Decolonization, established by President Ray Ivany, is part of the important process by which Acadia will examine how it must respond to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and working with the Mi’kmaq elders, leaders, and people we will build a new relationship, and we will refine how we apply and express our values within the context of our educational environment here at Acadia.

Drew Gilpin Faust at her Installation as President of Harvard in 2007, stated that installation addresses “… are by definition pronouncements by individuals who don’t yet know what they are talking about” and are at best “expressions of hope unchastened by the rod of experience”. So I have not tried to lay out today some grand plan or scheme for my Presidency, because I am still learning. But let me at least conclude with some commitments.

As the 16th President and Vice-Chancellor, I pledge that Acadia will be true to its traditions and values; that it will continue to develop as a truly global university that is responsive to the needs of our students and society in the 21st century; that we will be an increasingly diverse, inclusive, and respectful community of teachers, scholars and learners; that we will welcome more students from around the world and that we will send more Canadian students abroad to gain real international and global experiences; that we will build a new partnership with the Mi’kmaq and be a more welcoming place of work and learning for Indigenous students, faculty and staff; that we will play an ever more important role in the growth of the economy and the enrichment of life in our region, our province and our country; that we will continue on the path of fiscal sustainability and sound stewardship of our resources; that we will be a force for improving the common good of humankind in Canada and around the world; that Acadia will continue to provide the best undergraduate learning experience in Canada and that our graduates will continue to be great leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists, and will understand the true meaning of civil society and being a global citizen.

In the words of the Acadia alma mater song:
Lift the chorus
Speed it onward
Sing it loud and free
Hail to thee our alma mater
Acadia, hail to thee

Wela’lioq - Thank you.