50 years of community

Establishing the University of Winnipeg’s identity

The University of Winnipeg (U of W) celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2017. Throughout those years, the institution has developed an identity that experts say is still evolving.

Jane Barter, associate professor in the religion and culture department, was drawn to the U of W for a few reasons when she began work there nearly 12 years ago.

“One was its emphasis upon the liberal arts,” she says. 

Barter says the university recognizes the importance of an understanding of the arts and the disciplines within.

Contributing to that commitment is Harry Strub, who has been at the U of W since the very beginning. 

“Coming to a small institution where you knew everybody in those early days,” he says, “as we evolved from United College into the (U of W), we could all feel like we were making a difference.”

The psychology professor and music expert initiated the Virtuosi Concert Series at the university, as well as a skywalk concert and lecture series at the Millennium Library.

The concerts feature international chamber music artists and regularly play to sold-out crowds. The skywalk series is more varied, features local musicians and has been a hit since it began in 1991. 

“It’s the library’s most successful enduring program,” Strub says.

This and other initiatives earned the U of W a reputation for building a feeling of community downtown, he says.

Smaller class sizes are another reason for that spirit of kinship. Strub and Barter agree this allows for strong relationships between professors and students.

“I feel really privileged that I get to know all of my students by name,” Barter says. “And by evaluating each of their essays rather than necessarily relying on a TA, I have the opportunity to get to know about their ideas. What makes them excited about their learning … I think it helps students to feel hooked into the program.”

According to Daniel Richard Eric Matthes, archives technician at the U of W, the school’s identity as a community builder is accurate to a degree. 

“That’s definitely one of the stories that the university’s told about itself,” he says. “It’s been a way to sort of define itself against the University of Manitoba.”

However, the story is becoming less true as time goes on, Matthes says.

“I would say there are communities within the university, but I don’t think it’s had that same community that it definitely enjoyed 50 years ago,” he says.

Matthes attributes that decline to things like the loss of Tony’s, a once-popular canteen the new Leatherdale Hall promises to pay homage to.

The university’s website also claims the student experience hasn’t been the same without a place for people from different faculties and experience levels to mingle.

Something Matthes sees as a sign of positive growth for the future of the institution is the strengthening of its infrastructure. He admires the moves Annette Trimbee, president and vice-chancellor, is currently making.

“She’s no longer trying to make the university bigger. What she’s trying to do is sophisticate and stabilize what we have,” Matthes says.

Strub remains as enthusiastic as ever about his work at the university and believes things are only getting better. He says he has no plans to retire and will teach for another 50 years if he can.

Published in Volume 71, Number 26 of The Uniter (March 30, 2017)

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