Cape Breton University looks for local insight

David Dingwall, Cape Breton University President and Vice-Chancellor, heard from Inverness County residents on June 18.

PORT HOOD: Inverness County’s municipal chamber served as a meeting of the minds on June 18, as Cape Breton University President and Vice-Chancellor David Dingwall asked local leaders how the university could foster a stronger relationship with the area.

“We need to build bridges, exchange information, and work together to address some of the situations we’re in,” Dingwall said.

Dingwall presented two questions to those attending. The first asked, “What are your community’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities?” The second question asked, “How can Cape Breton University and you work together?”

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A number of guests offered insights.

Local historian Jim St. Clair was the first to take the microphone, and he made a number of points. Perhaps the main one regarded having CBU help fight outmigration.

“I think we need to encourage people in our university to remain on this island,” he said. “We need to tie together our economic and social growth with the help of the university.”

Frank Macdonald, a local journalist and novelist, said CBU seems to have a limited presence on the west side of the island. In 35 years of reporting, Macdonald said he only recalls writing one story regarding CBU’s presence in the county.

Nicole Fawcett, advertising manager of  The Reporter , said she agreed with Macdonald’s point about a disconnection between the west side and CBU. She said it seems a connection between the university and locals could be improved.

“Four to six months ago, we had a team come down from CBU and they were very excited,” she said. “They wanted to talk about CBU getting involved with us, and I thought we were going to be inundated with press releases, which would have been great. We weren’t.”

“There’s no question we could pull up our socks on those sort of things,” Dingwall said.

Dingwall mentioned the Gaelic College of Cape Breton recently purchased a facility in Inverness County, and CBU has met with Gaelic College president Rodney MacDonald about how the university could use the facility, both as a location for retreats and courses. With that, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the university and Inverness council that would have the two groups work together in athletics, culture, and infrastructure needs.

Oisín Curran, a writer living in South West Margaree, mentioned a number of highly acclaimed writers live in the county, and that group could serve as a creative writing faculty for CBU. Perhaps a satellite campus on the west side of the island would be possible, he said.

“I’d like to reflect on that for awhile,” Dingwall said. “There’s an enormous cost associated with that, therefore we’d have to reflect on that, but perhaps we can take baby steps on that.”

Several other representatives of local groups spoke to Dingwall, and the CBU president said he was happy to hear all suggestions float his way. However, he warned the timeline needed to act upon recommendations isn’t necessarily going to be immediate.

“This is not going to be a walk in the park,” Dingwall said. “This is going to be messy at first, and some things are going to fall off the table but that’s the way the process works. I think we’ve heard a lot of interventions tonight, and we’ve also heard some practical suggestions in terms of what we can do and offer as a post-secondary institution.

“These processes are inherently messy, so don’t be discouraged if something isn’t built tomorrow or offered next week or the week after that, but after the messy process we’ll have some ups and downs and things will work their course.”