Greer: I’m curious about your transition from Chancellor of the Board to President—how did it happen?
Iwama: It’s been an interesting six months. I’d known about Quest for a while—from David Strangway as well as my friend [and former Quest board Chancellor] Dan Birch. Back in 2013, Dan called and told me that the school was going to start looking for a president in the next year, but that was right as I was heading to Okinawa . . . bad timing. So this past year, I introduced myself to [former Quest President] Peter Englert. We met a couple times after that, and at one point, he asked me if I would consider becoming the Chancellor because Dan Birch was stepping down. I said, “Well, sure.” And I was installed as Chancellor on May 2nd—the Saturday of graduation weekend.
On the Monday morning afterwards, I remember very well getting on my bicycle to ride out to UBC, and getting a call from Dan Birch informing me that the President [Englert] had left. Exactly that—silence. I had no inkling of this coming, neither from Peter, nor the board, about anything in this regard. When I attended a Board meeting as a guest, there was a letter issued by the faculty saying, “we have concerns about the relationship between the Board and the President.” But I’d seen that happen before, at other universities. Peter’s departure was a real surprise. Later in the summer, when I was Chancellor and Marjorie had taken on the role of Interim President, the process of recruiting Quest’s next President was about to start—well, it had already started, there was a committee and everything. And I said, yes, I’d like to apply. So, that started my road to becoming the President.
It seems like over the past couple of years, students have become quite interested in learning more about the role of the Board. Especially this year, I’ve heard a lot of talk about possibly getting a student representative on the Board. What’s your perspective on that?
That’s my agenda. I made it known right from when I was Chancellor—I said, “You need a faculty member, and you need a student representative” [on the Board]. When we haven’t had those representatives in the past, I can understand the worry—it forces a new, rigorous discipline of how we conduct meetings at the Board. But it’s important—we ought to have full representation, and in addition, we ought to publish the minutes of our meetings. So, [the rest of the Board is] all coming around to these notions. And the Ministry of Advanced Education [MOAE], through their Degree Quality Assurance Board [DQAB] who conducted an audit of Quest back in September, clearly specifies that need. They also recommend enlarging the Board.
In the future, I would like to see not only a larger board, representing a wider range of interests and skills, but also to have representation from the faculty and students. In other places I’ve worked, I’ve always emphasized communication, and I still think it’s very important, particularly at the stage of the university, where we find ourselves coming around the corner from a really tight spot financially. There are mechanisms whereby we can protect privacy, where appropriate. Otherwise, I think the discussions and deliberations of the Board should be posted. We will work towards that, I believe.
Over the summer Quest submitted an application to subdivide some of its endowment land. The application was soon retracted, but Quest resubmitted it again a couple of days ago. I’m curious whether you can speak to how that subdivision fits into the school’s current fundraising strategy.
North and South, as well as Riverside, Swift, and Four Winds, are built as condos. They’re not really built as student dorms. We lease them from their owners. Those leases come due at different times, and we have to be ready. What’s motivating this development of more residences like Red Tusk and Ossa is that we have to have ownership of housing our students—like, all our students—without any worry about some building getting sold. The arrangement is that in twenty-five years, Quest will own these buildings.
Further development of Quest lands, is another project, distinct from the dormitory/residence project. It is to purse possible ways we can gain financially from the assets of land we have, to address debts we have from the past..
What have you been working with the rest of Quest’s new administration this year?
As you might know, Marjorie Wonham has started a new role since leaving Quest’s interim Presidency as a special advisor to the President for a one-year term. I asked her to consider that [position]. I just read over the MOAE’s recommendations after their site visit, and they endorsed [the creation of that position] very strongly, so that there can be that support going into this year.
The first of two things I’ve asked her to address are to develop an integrated academic-financial plan. It might be called a Strategic Plan, building on the Vision and Mission statements already developed at Quest. Everywhere I’ve done such a plan, it’s been done in a rather compressed timeline, short and easy to understand, with action plans that you commit to. The second thing is to document the history of Quest, since its inception, based on the documentation that’s available: land titles, transfers, who was involved, what foundations or trusts we dealt with, who was involved, and the chronology of all those actions. And it ought to be deposited as an asset of this university so that people can say, “No more hearsay.” No more, “this was promised, and it didn’t turn out to be.” That might be the story, but the actual fact—in matters that can be substantiated legally, with documentation—that should be our history.
Can you talk about some of the history and early impacts of the Ministry of Advanced Education’s audit?
The MOAE was alarmed and concerned about our situation this past year, so they visited us. The charge from the visiting team was not to do with the academic quality of Quest. That was beyond question—they not only knew the reputation Quest has, but they have substantial evidence of the high quality of academic offerings here. The point being, with all that good going on at Quest, they wanted to delve into the governance, administrative capacity and financial situation to ensure that it has the foundation it deserves to sustainably succeed in the future.
The [report] says things like, “We believe that the administration hasn’t grown in concert with the student body,” and because of that, they say, many roles are only one person deep. They feel the strains of the system, and that’s one thing, but also they realize that the drop in enrolment had financial impacts. So they came in, they talked to us, talked to students, to faculty, administration, and at the end of the day, they felt buoyed by positive hope that the new leadership at the university and a rejuvenated board had the wherewithal to bring Quest out of this difficult time.
At the same time, we haven’t done things that other universities have to comply with. For ten years, the Ministry has allowed us to continue, with one condition: that all of the universities have what they call “teachout conditions”, so that should something happen to the institution, all the students are protected and have another institution to go to. All other post-secondary institutions have done this; for some reason, we haven’t articulated that. So, we’ve been having some positive discussions with Capilano University and UBC about articulation agreements. In fact we are working on a Memorandum of Understanding with Capilano University for a block transfer agreement of our Foundation program to their Liberal Studies program . And as I said to Marjorie and the others before their visit, I said, “this is a very good thing, that they’ll come and examine these parts of our university and make recommendations. We can use that as a basis for investment and action.”
Do you aim to prioritize any particular recommendations from the MOAE?
Yes—on fundraising, I’m going to, as quickly as the end of this week, start taking action on engaging fundraising groups and exploring how we can quickly come up with a plan for raising and utilizing funds. Donors want to know that whether they’re giving five dollars or five hundred thousand dollars, that there’s a plan, and have confidence in the institution. And the first one is to ask the students, faculty and staff what their needs and wants are.
So there are lots of things that are, well—not difficult to do, that we can put in place in a span of, you know, weeks to months, not years, so that we can start and report the incoming funding to our community, to show that these are starting to happen.
How might students know about some of the MOAE recommendations? Do you have any inhibitions about making it public?
No—I don’t think there’s anything in it that we haven’t discussed today. This is an important report and I’m just waiting for clarity [from the MOAE] on who I can share it with. I’ve just read through it in detail, am preparing a response that I have to submit by October 5th [SIDE NOTE: REQUEST UPDATE ON RESPONSE AFTER THIS DATE] that details what we’ll do as a result of this report. I would like to share the report and our response, followed by open discussions with me about the contents. I look forward to that.
Thanks! On a more personal note, how have you found living in Squamish so far?
Well, so far, I moved last Wednesday; the place is still in a bit of turmoil, so . . . it’s nice, I’ve just been down to the grocery stores, and am figuring out where the roads lead to. But I’m kind of keen to get down to the river because I’m sure maybe the pink salmon have finished their run, and the Coho are coming, and I’d like to get in touch with nature again. I’m kind of a fly fishing guy, who catches smaller trout in streams.
Do you fish to eat, or catch and release?
Well, I study stress physiology, and I’m kind of in the school of thought where if you catch what you’re going to eat, that’s fine. Catch and release, from a fish’s perspective, is like being caught and dragged down a gravel road for a while, and then let go again … you can’t expect a fish to reproduce quite as efficiently after an experience that stressful. Fishing club people, as well as animal welfare people, invite me for talks, and what they always want to know is, “is catch and release as bad for the fish as people say?” And I say, “well, it’s stressful—they’re fighting for their lives.” I say, catch ‘em and eat ‘em, thank the Creator, and head home. §