Dr. Kent MacDonald stepping down as StFX president

ANTIGONISH: After only 1,691 days in the office, one of the shorter tenures served in its 166-year history, the president of StFX announced on March 19, he won’t be signing on for a second term.

Dr. Kent MacDonald, a native of New Glasgow and a two-time StFX graduate, announced he would be vacating his position when his term expires on July 31, after serving only five years as the 18th president of the university, something he can only define as his dream job.

MacDonald becomes the second top official at the university who has stepped down in as many months. Dr. June Webber, the vice president of the Coady International Institute and extension department, stepped down on March 8.

“As many of you know, my area of research interest is presidential leadership. In this regard, I know how critical it is for a university president to be aware of when the time has come to pass the torch to the next leader,” MacDonald said in his three-page letter addressed to the Xaverian community. “Earlier this month, I informed StFX Board of Governors Chair, Mike Boyd, that now is the right time for a new leader for our beloved university. This was perhaps the most difficult decision I have ever made, yet I believe it is the correct one to help propel St. Francis Xavier University into the next phase of growth.”

StFX is the place MacDonald considers home as both his parents walked the campus in the 1950s, he met his wife Mary-Ellen there in the 1980s, and all four of their children have had the privilege of attending the university over the past decade.

“I am very proud to have been president during a time when we launched new and exciting academic programs — the lifeblood of any educational institution — and have raised millions of dollars to help underwrite critical university priorities,” the letter went on.

During his tenure as president, there have been many personal highlights for MacDonald including witnessing the first cohort of students to receive scholarships and bursaries from the Jeannine Deveau Educational Equity Endowment Fund, helping their nursing faculty and staff move into the Elizabeth and Tom Rankin School of Nursing, and working with donors and the student union to begin the creation of the Amelia and Lino Saputo Centre for Healthy Living.

“Perhaps most importantly, after years of effort, we were able to secure a multi-million annual increase to our operating budget from the Province of Nova Scotia,” he said. “This annual increase in funding is equivalent to a $100 million endowment, and has allowed us to balance our budget for the first time in many years. StFX is now on solid footing as it moves closer to its 175th anniversary.”

However, MacDonald’s proudest achievement during his time at StFX was the creation of the Xaverian Fund, a $50 million endowment for StFX student scholarships and bursaries, which is almost fully achieved.

“Five years ago, that goal was unimaginable. Yet we dared ourselves to dream big,” he said. “The best news is that these milestones are just the beginning.”

This fall, the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government and Mulroney Hall officially opens on campus, offering new classrooms, labs, offices and gathering places for the community.

“With all of these successes, over the past several months I have taken the time to reflect upon what it would mean if I were to commit to another multi-year term to serve our university,” MacDonald said. “While we have collectively accomplished much over five years, I believe it is now time for a new president to build on our momentum, bringing innovation and fresh perspectives to the discussions.”

Addressing faculty, who he said proudly support StFX and who put the university first in all they do; the incredibly dedicated staff, with their unmatched dedication to the Xaverian experience; the students, who he called an academically-focused and socially engaged lot, and are exactly what society needs in a university graduates, MacDonald said it was an honour to serve his alma mater.

In an official release from the university, Boyd said MacDonald, who is a true Xaverian, dedicated himself tirelessly to leading StFX and has done a tremendous job.

“His strengths are many, yet one that stands out for me has been his ability to personally connect and communicate with our students, a group that he cares deeply for,” Boyd explained. “This was reflected in his decision to create and launch the Xaverian Fund – a $50 million endowment for student scholarships and bursaries which, in part, has increased access to higher education for those who could not afford such an opportunity.”

Boyd noted that in addition to his commitment to students, MacDonald and his team have had many significant accomplishments during his tenure; establishing the university’s 2017 – 2022 Strategic Plan, launching the $110 million Xaverian Commons Project to improve academic and social spaces on campus; and, most recently, balancing the university’s budget.

A presidential search will begin in the weeks ahead.

“I have made this decision to leave StFX as president with a sense of pride, knowing I have done my very best to serve my alma mater to the best of my abilities,” MacDonald said. “I look forward to exploring new challenges in the future, but for now, there is much work to finish before my departure this summer.”