By Kelly Haggart
With more than 25 years of senior leadership roles in health care and government, Kathryn Butler Malette has brought a wealth of experience to uOttawa’s board of governors. After 10 years on the board, including five as vice-chair, she was elected chair on July 1, 2017, succeeding Robert Giroux at the end of his term. She recently sat down with the Gazette to look back, and ahead.
A long connection to uOttawa
I was a student at uOttawa in the 1970s, graduating with a degree in French literature and later completed courses in administration and human resources management. There’s also a strong family connection to the University. My father obtained his Bachelor of Commerce degree here in the 1940s after serving in the war and before moving on to Osgoode Hall Law School and was actively involved with uOttawa’s Alumni Association. My husband, Yvon Malette, was a professor at the University before his retirement several years ago. Our four children all went to uOttawa, and my son Alain, who studied engineering here, works at the University in international recruitment.
Educated in French
I grew up in Ottawa and attended French schools. My parents are anglophones who don’t speak a word of French, but they insisted that my brother, sister and I be educated in French. That was a really forward-thinking decision. My husband is Franco-Ontarian, our children are all bilingual and we speak French and English at home. The fact that the University is the only bilingual university in Canada is one of the reasons that I, and many others, studied here.
A decade on the board
I joined the board in the 2007-2008 transition period, when Gilles Patry was president and the search was underway for his successor, Allan Rock. I was chair of a social service agency board and a director of a hospital board at the time and wanted to join the uOttawa board because of its national and international reputation and to be able to serve our community.
It has been a fascinating experience and I’ve learned a lot over the past 10 years. We have an excellent reputation as a research-intensive university with a high academic profile within Canada and internationally. Our mission to ensure that our students, who are the heartbeat of the University, have a fulfilling learning experience is compelling. And we have outstanding professors and staff — the key to our success and stellar reputation.
I’m proud of the way the campus is developing, with impressive new buildings where students can study, hang out together, relax and live. The University brings immense value to the city of Ottawa. Our graduates hold key roles in government, high tech, health care, law, international postings and many other areas of expertise that contribute to the growth and economy of the city.
The role of the chair
As chair, my role is to provide leadership to the board and ensure good governance of the University. This involves working collaboratively with the president and senior management team and calling upon the significant expertise of our board members when we decide on matters pertaining to the mission, vision and strategic direction of the University.
The chair ensures that board’s governors have the information they need to make well-informed decisions that affect key projects, students, the budget and the long-term mission of the University. The board has an important fiduciary responsibility, and my role is to help board members navigate issues by guiding and enabling discussions that lead to solid decision making.
The Board of Governors membership is quite large, governed by the University of Ottawa Act. The Act calls for a board of up to 32 members representing the different communities of interest including the University, professors, undergraduate and graduate students, support staff, the Alumni Association, the University Senate, the Government of Ontario and Saint Paul University.
The chair presides over the board meetings, which occur eight times a year. Members sit on committees that meet in between board meetings. In addition to chairing monthly board meetings, I will also chair the Committee on Governance and Nominating and am a member of the Finance and Treasury Committee and Buildings and Land Committee.
I’m excited to be taking on this role at this time. As Destination 2020 gradually comes to an end, I look forward to the planning and decisions we’ll make about the future of the University as we move toward 2030. We want to see uOttawa grow in its position as a top-ranked university, continue to be internationally recognized for its research and faculty and attract the best students to study here.
One of the issues that is important to me is having the University develop a more consistent approach to succession planning across faculties and also to encourage more women to consider joining the senior cadre of vice-presidents, deans and directors. I would like to see more women join the board as well.
Another important issue is that of mental health on campus. As a society, we’re talking more openly about mental health issues, and students and staff are coming forward when they need help. We must have processes in place to support our students and staff before they’re in a crisis situation. Partnering with healthcare organizations to provide this much-needed support is one approach.
Life beyond the boardroom
I’m currently working as a mediator and employer-side arbitrator for rights and interest disputes involving employers and their unionized employees. Being able to resolve issues and reach an acceptable outcome for both sides is very satisfying work.
I enjoy photography, visiting art galleries and sports such as biking, kayaking and tennis. I have a photo shoot project on the go and am taking a series of photos in the New Edinburgh neighbourhood. But above all, I love spending time with my six grandchildren. They have taught me a lot about life, as our next generation of uOttawa students!