University sees great value in its external relationships


A couple of years ago, while at the Canadian Universities Government Relations Officers annual conference, I attended a presentation made by the University of Western Ontario and the London Chamber of Commerce about the strong partnership they enjoyed.

At first glance, the session seemed understated and underwhelming, as it was slotted amid more noteworthy sessions that included federal deputy ministers, prominent media columnists and established strategists within government. However it was this session that resonated with me more than the others because it spoke to the great opportunities that arise when partnerships with local entities are established.

Western's relationship with the London chamber, at one point, was fairly one-sided. The University would approach local businesses only when it needed something – such as support for a specific application for government funding.

The relationship changed when the London chamber reengaged the University and insisted that Western become a meaningful partner. After some concerted effort, the chamber and the university created a relationship of mutual benefit.

After returning home and pondering this example, I joined the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee. I had given the local chamber little thought prior to that point but now felt it was important to get involved. What I immediately found was that the Lethbridge and Western situations were hardly comparable.

I discovered that the University of Lethbridge's relationship with the local chamber goes back decades. On its website the chamber proudly states the significant role it has played in support of the U of L in the community. The University has an automatic appointment to its board of directors and various committees have U of L representatives actively participating in events and meetings. Faculty of Management Dean
Dr. Bob Ellis, for example, serves on the Government Affairs committee.

As well, University researchers have taken the time to share their expertise with the chamber. In the past few months alone, Dr. Geoffrey Hale has spoken on border issues and Dr. Judith Kulig advocated for federal funds to create a pilot program for initiatives that would help universities retain Aboriginal students and assist in their transition to the workforce.

Like the Lethbridge Chamber of Commerce, the University of Lethbridge has a role to play in the economic development of the city and beyond. One of the key directions in the U of L's Strategic Plan is to enhance relationships with external communities. Faculty and staff from the University currently share their skills with a myriad of different local organizations. It is this spirit of sharing knowledge and expertise that benefits both the community and the U of L.

Looking at the emphasis the U of L places on community engagement, and by the number of advocates the University already has in the community, fostering these meaningful partnerships and interactions will only help the city and the University to thrive in the future.

Richard Westlund is the University's government relations director