While Eddy Campbell’s term as UNB president is nearing its end, his passion for the school and what it symbolizes remains as strong as ever.
Sure, his decade leading the university’s two campuses had its share of ups and downs - Campbell cites the “nasty” strike in 2012 (see From the Archives on page 31) as the low point of his professional career - but he is still left with overwhelmingly positive memories.
“There’s a lot of noise in administration,” said Campbell in an exclusive interview with The Brunswickan. “I’ve always tried to remember what’s really going on.”
To him, this means choosing to focus on the experience of being part of the UNB community rather than the more formal parts of his job. Being a visible presence in the university community and at events is a large part of being president, and this is an area that Campbell has embraced. Whether at a hockey game, a conference, or any other major events on campus, there is a good chance you’ve seen Campbell there, his UNB Reds scarf draped loosely around his neck, observing and enjoying all the atmosphere and energy of university life.
“All of my best memories are around student events… Universities are great places to work. I think the reason they are so wonderful is they’re full of all these students with enormously high potential, great enthusiasm and they’re not yet ground down.”
It’s not that Campbell sees his more formal administrative tasks as unimportant - although he note that he finds board and senate meetings to be “entirely forgettable” - rather, he believes enthusiasm within the community is a key indicator of a healthy institution that will produce successful people. Attending events and meeting students, alumni and other members of the university community face-to-face has served an important and practical purpose.
Campbell says meeting and picking the brains of successful alumni is something he found particularly interesting in his role as president. In doing so, he noticed that the one common thread was their passion and enthusiasm for the work they were doing. Following this logic, ensuring that students are enjoying a fulfilling and well-rounded university experience should increase the likelihood of producing enthusiastic alumni who were able to find a passion.
“Very few of [the most successful alumni I have met] recounted being exceptional students. They would say things like ‘I hope you haven’t seen my transcript!’” Campbell said, laughing. “Successful people are happy people and I believe that’s one of the reasons they become successful.”
Outside of his positive memories of the overall university experience, Dr. Campbell said there are many other accomplishments from his time at UNB that he is very proud of - although he stresses that he isn’t trying to take the credit as there are many other people involved. These included surpassing recent fundraising goals by $15 million and increasing student bursary support by 600%. He is also very proud of UNB’s exceptionally high rate of first-generation students, a measure by which the school is among the leaders in the country. He notes that many of these students would not be able to attend without the free tuition program as well as tuition relief for the middle class.
Looking ahead to the future, Campbell believes that UNB is in a very unique position to help revitalize a stagnant New Brunswick economy, something that has been one of his major focuses as president.
“I have a particular question that I’ve been asking since I’ve come here: what would we be doing if our name was University for New Brunswick, rather than University of New Brunswick? That question has, at this point in time, a collection of truly exceptional answers.There are literally dozens and dozens of examples where the university is able to work with stakeholders or anyone around an issue looking to make things better.”
Leading the charge in this regard will be incoming president Paul Mazerolle, who Campbell says he has spoken with recently and came away impressed with his personality and overall demeanor. Campbell adds that he hopes and believes Mazerolle will carry on this legacy of working to fix what ails the province.
In the meantime, the outgoing president says he is looking forward to having the chance to take time off before deciding what is next for him. He and his wife, who sadly passed away in October, had discussed returning to live in St. John’s, NL, but he is now thinking about moving to a more central location where it will be easier to see his children who are in St. John’s, Halifax, Ottawa and San Francisco.
One thing Campbell is certain about, however, is getting back to spending more time with his passion for mathematics research, where he works in the areas of algebra and geometry. He does not plan to take on a position at any other universities, but says it’s possible he could take on another job in the future after he has had a chance to decompress. “You do as much as you can [while president] but inevitably you pay a toll, so I am looking forward to having the opportunity to recharge,” he said.
The toll of ten years at the helm of two university campuses aside, Eddy Campbell is leaving with a very positive outlook on where UNB stands and where it is headed.
“It’s a really tremendous place. UNB is a great, great school and I believe we’ve contributed a lot to the province on a daily basis and we have the potential to do a lot more.”