Name: Dr. Kenneth L. Ozmon
Position: Professor of Psychology; President of University
Dates associated with Saint Mary's: 1979-2001
Scope and Content: Major topics include: Dr. Ozmon's educational background; how St. Mary's has developed its own unique identity; changes to St. Mary's over the years; ideas of service to students and community; effect of Catholic tradition at St. Mary's; involvement of staff in areas outside the university.
Conducted by Angela Baker, July 13, 1993
Transcription by Denise Beaubrun
AB: Testing, 1, 2, 3. Okay, let's just start with a little bit of background information on you. Could you state your full name please?
KO: Kenneth L. Ozmon.
AB: Okay, and your date and place of birth?
KO: Portsmouth, Virginia, U.S.A, September 4, 1931.
AB: Could you describe your educational background?
KO: I was, went to grammar school and high school in Portsmouth at a school started by the Sisters of Charity. Graduated in 1948 in high school, went to St. Bernard College in Alabama, Northern Alabama, a town by the name of Cullman (proceeds to spell C-U-L-L-M-A-N), got my Bachelor of, of Arts there in 1952. Went to, taught high school in Alabama and went to Catholic University of America for my Masters degree in the summers of early 1950's, got that in 1955. Taught in Alabama again at St. Bernard High School, St. Bernard College and went to Montreal, taught in Montreal from 1962-65, or maybe you do not want to get into the teaching? (AB: Sure.) Then I got my Ph.D. at the University of Maine, '65-'68 in Psychology.
AB: In Psychology. And what else were you busy at before you came to Saint Mary's?
KO: Well mainly teaching, I taught, well after I left Alabama, I taught in Montreal at St. Joseph's Teachers College, Marianopolis College and Thomas Moore Institute, for the 3 years I was there. And then while I was at the University of Maine, I taught part-time for the University of Maine, I taught summer school at the University of Prince Edward Island. This lead to an offer of a job from U.P.E.I., which I didn't take at the time. I went to California and taught at Chico State University, it was called Chico State College at that time, and taught for a year. Got a call from U.P.E.I., or St. Dunstan's University, which was going to be part of the new U.P.E.I., which was St. Dunstan's and Prince of Wales College. Went there the following year, that would have been 1969, taught Psychology, became chair of the Psychology department and Dean of Arts. Dean of Arts for the last 7 years I was there came to Saint Mary's as President in 1979. So at this point I've been president for 14 years.
AB: Okay, well let's talk about the school when you first arrived; it was much different than it was today . . . (KO: smaller) . . . smaller.
KO: Physically, actually the plant is not that much different. With the exception of the Tower, which has internally, internally physically, it is quite changed because we've cut off a lot of space and used it for different things, and things have moved around from place to place. But externally the campus looks pretty much the same, with the exception of the introduction of the Tower, the Astroturf field and a few minor, minor additions to the external appearance but not much really.
AB: How about the student population?
KO: The student population at that time, I think was at full-time, was slightly over 2000, if 2044 sort of sticks in my mind, and actually had been on decline, as was characteristic of the universities in those days, there was a big drop-off phenomenon when jobs were available. Students suddenly decided that university wasn't necessarily in their interest and a lot of people didn't go to university, a lot of people dropped out, I think. So, I think, people were thinking at that time that that is the decline that everyone was predicting, because as you may know, the demographics said that there was going to be fewer high school graduates because the number of people going to high school were, or were going through the school system, were diminishing, so that university, the university enrolment was going to decline, because in those days people thought of the 18-24 year old group as being the university group, and tracking that group should give you a clue as to what is going to happen down the road. What happened of course was just the opposite: that university enrolments went up and has been steadily going up ever since the early 19, early 1980s. The result really of increased participation rate and a much broader age group in among the student body, and people who are spreading their course loads out over . . . a number of phenomenon.
Particularly true of the cities, I think, right across the country, where the population has been shifting to the cities, which increases the client base in the city, and also people who live in the city are more reluctant to go outside the city to study. Compounded I think in Saint Mary's case, by the popularity of, of business programs, which form a large proportion of ours, and the growing positive reputation of Saint Mary's over the past couple years, where people see Saint Mary's as a real option, who may have shunned Saint Mary's before they go to Dalhousie or Acadia.
AB: What has led to that perception of change over the years?
KO: Well, I think we've worked at it for one thing, but I think probably largely it's based on the fact that we've hired well. We've worked hard to ensure that our professoriate is first class and, doing things that professors do everywhere, that gains the reputation for the University, such as research. I hesitate to put all emphasis on research 'cause I think of broadly based scholarly activities as being more characteristic of a good active faculty. As a result of our growth too, we've been able to add faculties in a market where the University is sort of in command. I mean it's a buyers market, in many fields, not a lot in the Business fields, but in Science and in the Arts you can really pick up a lot of first class people who may at one time or another have gone to the larger institutions rather than the small.
People who have degrees from larger universities, from prestigious universities, and people who are doing research know people in their field and want to do research. So they're very active scholars, where as I would say 20, 30 years ago, Saint Mary's and universities like Saint Mary's, would have been considered sort of backwater institutions. The people, many of the professors, they would not have doctoral degrees, wouldn't be doing any research, wouldn't be active in scholarly associations; that's completely changed in modern times. So that the reason why now, aside from the financial reason, the reason why people come to teach at smaller universities now, I think is because that's the culture they adopt, they want to be in a place that values teaching, that values contact with students. So it's a choice on the part of really good people, where as before, a really good person who ended up in a small university, granted generalizations are unfair, a lot of really good persons would not have come to a university like Saint Mary's. It wouldn't have fulfilled their need.
So I think that's helped, that's one of the big things. I think that we've been trying to provide the resources that people need; computer resources for example. We know that we have to do certain things in order to ensure that our faculty and our students can obtain a first class education, and part of that is ensuring that they have machinery and equipment for those who need it, particularly in this day and age of computer. So, we've generally been ahead of the crowd on computer, I mean we haven't been the country's leader, but we've generally stayed ahead and we've always had the intention of doing that. And we're entrepreneurial.
I mean, we believe in promoting ourselves, and tell people about ourselves because we feel that we have a story to tell. Why shouldn't you go out and tell people what you're doing? One of the things we've done, which you may have heard from somebody else, for example, was trying to promote ourselves as an institution that's really interested in students. So we started about 8 years ago, I think about '87 or '8, calling students who had applied to Saint Mary's and been accepted, on the assumption that these students applied to a lot of other, or some other institutions, so that the variables associated with why they come to your institution as opposed to another may be manipulable, in a sense. If they applied to Saint Mary's, because Saint Mary's for them fulfills something like having a personal touch, a phone call from a faculty member probably would enforce that.
And if we believe that's what we do, we're not being fake to call them. So call, we use faculty to call and they call a student with a simple message, "Congratulations on being accepted to Saint Mary's, I am Professor so and so, I see you're interested in studying this or that, if you have any questions about Saint Mary's I'll be happy to answer it." And well, we did it as an experiment. The first year we called, I think, 200 people who . . . we called 200 and put another 200 aside and didn't call, and used them as a control group and tried to match them for the faculty they applied to and things like that. Twenty percent more came from the group that we called, than the other group, so we knew it was a successful type of venture. And I think we would have had some kind of trepidation about doing that if we felt that we were deceiving people, but we felt this is what we're saying we deliver, and why shouldn't we be positive about ourselves?
AB: So what changes in academic arena have you seen over the years?
KO: In academic programs?
AB: Academic programs, revisions, special activities and those kinds of things.
KO: Well, I think we've, Saint Mary's has not gone full board into trying to develop a lot of new programs purposely, I mean we don't, we don't want to be all over the map. So what we've tried to do to a large extent is strengthen the ones that we have and introduce ones where we really felt there was a need and nobody else was doing it. So for example, a Master in Psychology: that was really started before I came, but it filled a niche there for an applied psychology area that nobody else was doing. The International Development Studies is another niche that we felt that nobody else was doing that and very successful. We've been trying to do that in Environmental Studies and hope to be able to do that. Things like that we've been trying to do. Otherwise strengthening the programs we have already, namely.
AB: When you first came as president in 1979, what challenges did you see?
KO: Well, the main the main challenge I saw was that Saint Mary's was a very fractious institution at that time. Saint Mary's was one of the first universities in the country to unionize. That usually gives you a clue as to what the relationship is between the administration and the faculty . . . this faculty unionized . . . and usually is the result of faculty feeling they need some way of presenting a solid front against an administration that's manipulable and arbitrary. So Saint Mary's has had quite a tradition of bad relationships between the presidents in particular and the faculty. So that had to be overcome, and that I really saw as my first challenge, and mainly just by getting around and talking to people, involving people in decision making. We changed the budget committee structure for example, to involve faculty in budgeting and became much more open about letting people know what was going on, developing a sense of trust. And I think that, plus the work of a good set of deans and other administrators sort of broke down those barriers over the years, so that there is I think, in general, as much as you can expect, a sense of trust among people, because they feel if there are any decisions that are going to be made that affect their welfare, you are going to inform them in advance and at least make them aware of what these things are. It doesn't meant that you are always going to be able to take a vote on anything and follow their vote if something else has to be done, but I think we've developed a sense of trust.
The other thing is I think we've developed a sense of confidence in people. Saint Mary's was always looking over its shoulder at Dalhousie and always looking at the big guy down the block as if, "What is Dalhousie going to think?" But now we've gotten out of that mentality even to the point where I think Dalhousie looks over its shoulder wondering what Saint Mary's is going to do next. We had, we didn't purposely set out to alienate Dalhousie or to challenge them in our area, but we didn't see any reason why we should be considered to be second rate and we don't consider ourselves to be that way to any university in the country. We saw ourselves as having to, to have a certain level of quality in our teaching and our professoriate particularly, but in everything we do and we just set out to better ourselves and I think we've done it. But it's been a group effort, real team effort, with the help of everybody, and some people have really contributed greatly, I think, to that.
AB: Okay, so over the years of your presidency, what directions and roles do you see Saint Mary's taking up?
KO: Well, I think we're increasingly seen as a high quality institution, an institution that is very responsive to the community. I think we have acquired a reputation that we're prepared to look at things and to try and meet people where they are rather than forcing people always into our mould. I think we show that in continuing education, for example, by having things going downtown to the World Trade Center to teach people, having courses in Truro and Bridgewater and other places around the province, having courses at odd times which are convenient to people, rather than forcing people to adapt to us. We still need to do some other things in order to accommodate the students on campus, with hours of offices being open, things like that. By and large I think Saint Mary's has tried to be responsive to the community and the community on campus as well as the ones off campus. I think to that we like to be ahead of the pack, like in computing or whatever, we, I like to be the first on the block to do something if it looks like a good idea, not wait around for somebody else to try it out, and so, and I think that's sort of a campus culture. But another thing, which has been our strength I think, is that there is a good sense of common mission at Saint Mary's. I think that's what's made me feel most comfortable in my role, is that if I leave campus and the vice-president is the one who is called upon to speak, or a Dean to say something if a crisis arises, or anything, and speak on behalf of the University, it's going to be essentially the same message that I'm going to give out, because I think, first of all we talk about these things. We discuss them, we bounce our ideas off one another and nobody . . . the idea is what prevails. It's not somebody because they are president or dean or vice-president . . . if we came to an agreement on, "This is our mission statement," for example, or what path of action we're going to take on this. It doesn't mean we're always right, but at least it provides a sort of sense of community there and a sense that we're all on the same team and that we're all singing from the same song page. I think that's really helped Saint Mary's a lot. You don't find a newsperson coming in, interviewing the vice-president, going to interview a dean, and they say something different about our commitment to continuing education or something; not likely to hear that story here at Saint Mary's. And that's not true of a lot of institutions.
AB: Do you think that's by virtue of its size?
KO: Size has something to do with it, but I wouldn't contribute it to size anymore than I would attribute being unresponsive to students to size. I think size is used as an excuse a lot of the times for not being responsive: "We're getting too big now, we can't write handwritten letters to people." I think you can, you just have to work and it takes more time, but if you really are committed to doing it, you do it; if you feel that's important you continue to do it.
AB: So, what have been some of the problems that Saint Mary's has faced over the years or continuing challenges?
KO: Well, growth is a problem; growth provides a problem in more than one way. Obviously, the physical demand on the campus is a problem. The demands on the professors in the classroom, when you pump too many students in there, the stress that it takes on and the toll that it takes on everybody, the Registrar's Office, the Business Office for having to deal with that many more customers, without additional bodies, commensurate anyway. That's been a real problem for us. Coupled with that is the philosophical problem that it presents for us, because Saint Mary's, on the one hand, has always seen itself as being a very personal institution and we pride ourselves on professors getting to know students and vice-versa, and having sort of a family atmosphere is much harder to maintain when you're large. On the other hand, we see ourselves as an accessible university that is providing opportunities for people out in the community to go to university, not necessarily only the elite crowd. So we find ourselves more and more, we're finding it more and more necessary, because of demand, to put restrictions on entry so that the average entry grade, for example, is now close to 76. Five years ago it was about 72. So we know that some people are being excluded from the University who are qualified. And in fact, you know that Saint Mary's has always had its roots in the sort of blue-collar community because the Irish, whom it served early on, were not the affluent part of the establishment. They were the down-and-outers, and we do not want to lose touch with that segment of society. But increasingly, I think we may be losing touch in the sense that fewer and fewer are being accepted to the University. On the other hand, what do you do? Should we meet ten thousand students if the Province would provide the money for the buildings? I don't know. Some people feel we should be smaller than we are so we can regain that common touch. But most people, I think certainly in the senior administration, feel that there has to be some balance there, that we have to be responsive to the community out there because some universities are not responsive. I don't mean not wanting to be responsive so much as segmenting their student body into people who are more in the elite category, and Mount Allison is a case in point. Mount Allison purposely goes out for an elite group of students and they limit their enrolment to 1700 to 2000, something like that, and they say they're not going to take anymore. Well, if we did that in Halifax I think we would be not fulfilling an obligation we have to the community to do that. I think many of us can wait.
AB: I see.
KO: The other problem is lack of resources. It's . . . all universities have trouble these days but we've been particularly hard hit, I think, by not getting the resources from the governments that we need, both in operating funding and in capital. The operating funding schemes that the government employs to distribute its funds have worked to the disadvantage of Saint Mary's for at least the last ten years, and so much so that right now we probably, on a per student basis, are the lowest funded in the country, certainly the lowest funded in the province and are deriving a higher percentage from tuition, I'm sure, than any publicly funded institution in the country, over 40% of our money is derived from tuition. So we're the closest thing to a private institution there is in Canada. It doesn't make me happy. So, it's a struggle but I still see a good atmosphere on campus in spite of the problems and people are working together and harmoniously. You don't expect universities to be totally harmonious and I don't think we would be fulfilling our mission if we were, because part of the function of a university is to challenge ideas and to question things, you don't want everybody thinking alike. Doesn't mean that people have to be nasty to one another, but most certainly they have to disagree.
AB: I have been speaking to a number of Jesuit priests that were, have been, at Saint Mary's for a long time and I was wondering what effect you think the growing Catholic tradition has had on Saint Mary's, and if it continues to have an effect?
KO: Well, I think it does continue to have an effect because we, our Act of course, does incorporate some of the principles of our Catholic heritage, I think, and we are formally committed to following in the Christian tradition in a broader sense anyway. There is a very active Catholic chaplaincy on campus. It doesn't have any effect, in the sense that we have any compulsory theology courses for students as might have been in the day, probably was the day earlier, but then I don't think any institution in Canada, even ones that feel they are more Catholic than Saint Mary's is. The fact that the Official Chancellor is the Archbishop, and that the Jesuits appoint somebody to the Board and that the Chancellor appoints some members to the Board, I think that does maintain, symbolically anyway, and the Chancellor residing at convocations, maintains symbolically our connection with the Church, and I think it's a good thing. The Jesuit presence is practically gone, but I think the effects of the Jesuits, and the Irish Christian brothers before them, are still there. I mean, a lot of the Alumni who talk about them, really base a lot of their affection for the institution on the fact that they were taught by religious people. There are still some active, active things on campus to remind us from time to time, but not that much in a formal way.
AB: Okay, let's see. Are there any particular personalities or events that stand out over the years that you have been here?
KO: Yeah, there are a number I guess. There, there's been . . . universities are full of interesting characters, not just professors. I think we have a tendency to think that the professors are the only ones, but really, secretaries and others. There really are some fascinating people in universities. People who in their off-campus life are doing things that you never really know about until you read it in the papers or something, that somebody's cleaned up a stream and restored it for trout fishing and works in your print shop, that sort of thing. But, I still remember my installation here back in '79, and I think for me it was a memorable event anyway, and I think it gave me an opportunity to comment on where I saw Saint Mary's going and I really feel we have continued in the tradition that came out during our convocation. One of the highlights for me was the high school reunion back in, this will be their 50th . . . 40th year . . . I can't remember the year we had it but we had a reunion of all the high school graduates, a few years ago, and that really was a marvellous weekend, to meet all the people, many of whom never came to Saint Mary's for university, but who talked about the characters of Saint Mary's past and all; was fascinating to learn about. I am sure you've heard more about the Father Hennessy's and O'Donnell's . . .
AB: Sure, yeah
KO: . . . and people like that who meant a lot to Saint Mary's, and those sort of things, but I find memorable events every year, every convocation is memorable, in its own right.
AB: So, looking to the future, which directions do you see Saint Mary's going in?
KO: Well, I certainly see us continuing to embellish our academic reputation. I don't think there's any question in that because I think we have the kind of people who have the kind of energy that is needed to do that. I think we need resources in order to do as good a job as we want to do and that's where I will find my role, mainly in trying to provide resources and to help provide the kind of atmosphere on campus that makes it conducive for people to pursue their work. I think, if universities go the way I believe they should go, it doesn't guarantee they will, I think what you'll see is that Saint Mary's will carve out an area for itself similar to universities like Concordia and York and Simon Fraser, which I think are the closest to what our aspirations are: universities that are in urban areas that are responsive to the urban community to a large extent, but have developed a reputation in areas that they've carved out as their own particular unique areas, all the way to the Doctoral level. I don't see many Doctoral programs in our future, but I do see Doctoral programs in Business and perhaps International Development Studies and possibly some others. But, I think those are the two most likely candidates.
I think we'll have . . . I don't see the demand for places at Saint Mary's diminishing because I think we offer something to students that they want: the personal touch and a good quality education. And I think as it becomes more and more evident that the students who are leaving Saint Mary's can do well in whatever else they pursue, whether it's work or through study, that will draw more students to us. I think Saint Mary's . . . time is on Saint Mary's side because we've only graduated students in large numbers over the past ten years really. And a lot of those are in business areas and it's an area where people can move up rapidly in the corporate sector, and you get more attention really, from the press and all. So, I think what you're going to find over the next twenty years is the people that we have in middle management now, in a lot of companies across Canada, moving up to vice-presidencies and presidencies, so that we'll have a fair chunk of people in very prominent positions, and including politics, in the country. I think then Saint Mary's name will become much more national.
We're not nationally known very well, I think we've improved lately, the football team has played a part in that, but I think we're getting more and more known because we're out fund-raising so we get a chance to explain ourselves to people, and we are more and more prominent in the organizations that deal with universities. Many of, us for example, practically all our senior administrators have been heads of their regional organizations or their local organizations, librarians, deans, whatever, and many of us have been the chair or presidents of national organizations and that gives you a profile that helps the institution. I'm chairman of the Association of the Universities and Colleges of Canada, which is all the universities and colleges of Canada. So I chair the meetings of all fellow presidents across the country, McGill and UBC, as well as Ste. Anne, and that gives me a profile and I think says something about the University that is positive to the people. Guy Noel has been president of his national association. Don Kelleher has been president of his national association. We've got people now like Chuck Bridges; Chuck is on the executive of his national association. Ron Lewis has been chairman of his Atlantic association, and that sort of thing has helped us to have a higher profile among our fellow administrations in academics.
It all adds up, we've worked at it, you know it's not by chance, you have to work at these things, but we're determined that if we're going to be at a meeting, people will know we've been there, and we don't say things for the sake of saying it, but we're not going to shy away from taking part in things because that's how the University is seen as progressing. So we go to a lot of things. We participate in a lot of things, and we participate meaningfully and it's a strategy. We get our name from the public and we don't shy away, most of us don't shy away from any opportunity to stand in front of the camera or go on radio, because we feel it to the benefit of the University every time our name gets associated with being a spokesperson for one of the other things then the University's image is embellished, it adds up.
AB: You mentioned something that I, we, didn't talk about before, but, what has the role of sports been at the University over the years?
KO: Negative and positive I think. Negative in a sense that often times people see your success in sports as coming at the expense of your academic programs. So those universities that are very successful, in the minds of some, at other universities and in the general public, are ones that have lower standards, that let in people who are good at sports but really can't do well in the classroom. It's probably the type of reputation that is more mythical than real, but I think you have to work at ensuring that that type of reputation doesn't get . . . you don't get tagged with it, and you do that by ensuring that your coaches have high standards, that understand their job has to do as much with the students' marks as it is with success in winning games, and that they're going to be rewarded for that, and not punished for the other, that's part of it. I think it's trumpeting your values, such as our hockey coach has done recently. And making sure that you profile students who are doing well, like our sixteen All Canadians last year . . . academic athletic All Canadians. I think we have as good a number as anybody in the country, if you exclude those in sports we don't do, like swimming, and just compare on sports where we have comparable teams.
In other ways it's very positive because it does provide you with an opening, me as a fund raiser for example; if I go to Toronto and win the Vanier Cup, I don't have to say where Saint Mary's is because if they've been watching television they know, and it makes a big difference of thinking, and not negative. It always has the potential for negative publicity though, and that's the thing that is worrisome about varsity athletics, particularly the high profile ones like hockey, basketball, mainly men's, men's basketball, hockey and football. You don't have to have much that goes wrong before you make the headlines right across the country. So it's something that has to be managed very carefully that the president, I think, has to keep an eye on athletics and has to make it quite clear what the philosophy of the institution is and what will happen if there are any violations, you know. I think we and other universities have a pact with one another that we'll follow, we'll abide by certain rules and I insist that we're going to abide by the rules. And I am not receptive at all to suggestions that we should do something because some other university is alleged to be doing something that's not according to the rules. And I think the coaches know that, and I think it's helped to put the programs in the context of good sportsmanship and ones that emphasize the development of the students. I think we all realize that these students, ninety-nine, nine hundred and ninety-nine out of 1000 will have no career in professional athletics. So if we abide by our principles as an institution, then we're trying to provide for their careers by ensuring that they get the education they came here to get and not let them over emphasize athletics. And I think most coaches are very attentive to that duty.
AB: Well that's about all the areas I wanted to cover unless you can think of anything else.
KO: No, I, you know there are any number of areas we could cover I guess. Saint Mary's is really a very, very, good institution. I feel I've gained a lot by being part of it and hopefully it's gained from having me as part of its team. I think it's one of those mutual things that, and anybody who works here, feels very attached to the place and to the people. The thing that's helped us too with the students I think, is that very few students leave Saint Mary's because they don't like it. They may leave for any number of reasons, you know, they run out of money, they don't pass their courses, somebody dies in the family, they have to go to work, or something. But we don't have any students who leave who say, "I hate it." There are some, where as with other institutions, particularly large institutions, you see that a lot. They feel like they were a number, they were isolated and granted we miss some students, unfortunately some fall through the cracks, but by and large I think there is a climate on campus that is attentive to individual needs.
One thing we didn't talk about which I think is a real, real plus at Saint Mary's in our work with disabled students. That, in my estimation, from my fund-raising activities with people who did not know anything about Saint Mary's, probably gets more of a positive reaction than almost anything else I tell them about Saint Mary's. It really has been a real plus and I think we're offering a lot of opportunities to students who are physically disabled that other institutions aren't yet. I wish they all were, but I think we're working hard at that area. Unfortunately, again with very few resources, but it does something to the campus climate. I think that it's more than just, 'we are providing physical space,' it requires a culture that accommodates and encourages that, because there are a lot of people out there who need somebody to take notes for them or need some other thing as simple as opening the door, and at Saint Mary's you see that, you see that spirit that people are there to help one another.
Internationalization is another area, another thing that I think has really characterized the Saint Mary's of the last 20 years, 15 years, 10 years, that wasn't here before. I think Saint Mary's, pretty much our total international effort, was tied up in the students we took from overseas and I think that would have been our international activity. Now Saint Mary's is a real player on the international scene, we are conducting contracts in countries around the world, we can do it, we know how to do it, we're comfortable with it and it really has contributed a lot to the spirit on campus, I think, a little bit. We have a lot of people who are traveling overseas and involved in research projects and student exchanges, things like that. I mean it's . . . I think has made us feel good about ourselves because it makes us feel that we're not just a little local institution, you know, we're a player. It's all part of that confidence building too, I think, of Saint Mary's.