“You don’t take these positions on to be in charge, you take these positions on to use your abilities to help people achieve what they want to achieve.”
That’s how Dr. Kevin Wamsley describes his vision of his role as President and Vice-Chancellor at Nipissing University. Wamsley began his five-year term on August 1 taking over for Mike Degagne who resigned in June of 2020.
He’s got the resume to back up that statement as his career has placed him in some very high-profile positions across the country.
After graduating from Western University with an Honours Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts he says, “I had a very good supervisor who gave me a love for scholarship and teaching and so I headed out to do a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta.”
“I was there for five years and got my first tenure track job at the University of Calgary. As a Professor I taught History and specializing in the history of sport and the Olympic Games and established a research profile and moved to Western University in 1997 to be the Director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies, while continuing to be a professor.”
Wamsley says he wasn’t a big fan of the Olympic Games as a scholar because he “had a critical high on what was going on with respect to politics and the International Olympic Committee.”
“I started out as being an expert in 19th-century Canadian history and the role of the state within sport. I moved in toward different studies of gender and masculinity and violence and organization of gender through sport.”
He says the role of sport has been used to reproduce dominant social values for years and its through research that we begin to understand this.
“Either you can understand sport and understand its limitations or you can see some power in there to make change, which is what we see today,” says Wamsley.
“I take for example Brock McGillis who recently came to Nipissing University to deliver a talk during the North Bay Pride Festival about being the first openly gay professional hockey player, and he’s a social activist. So there’s someone acting to support so many young people in sport and speak out for social change and that shows the power and amplifies the great work that so many people have done over the years in sociology and history and political science.”
Wamsley says the role he took on in Calgary at the research centre is what blasted off his career.
“It allowed me to start digging around and hear some of the stories that were coming out of the Olympic Games. I was uncovering a lot of the politics that go into hosting the Olympics and a lot of the challenges that they faced. In 1998 when the hosting scandal erupted, every news outlet in the world wanted a comment and our centre became the focal point in the whole world for Olympic commentary,” he says.
“As researchers, we spend all of our time digging and searching and analyzing and writing. In many respects the research can be confining for some people and once it starts to open up and you become a bit of a commodity, it’s a bit of a different take on things and you have to take great pride in your data and your analysis and not be afraid to tell people what’s what on an international stage. So that means talking to CNN and CBC and CBS and I even testified at George Bush’s commission on China at the US Senate in 2003 on human rights in China as they were bidding for the Olympic Games.”
Wamsley says he has always been a critical researcher, and he likes to ask difficult questions about politics and relations between people and trying to understand how broader systems work and how sport contributes to broader societal relationships.
“I’ve just been fascinated by studies of power and oppression and stories of resistance,” he says.
“I think that many of us who grew up and were privileged by sport as athletes, we took sport for granted as something that was always an extremely positive situation that everyone should celebrate. My study of sport is much more complicated than that and it reproduces a set of economic and political and gender relationships and racial relationships that are not always good for people.”
Moving on from the research centre in Calgary, Wamsley moved into more of an administration role.
“I was a member of the executive of the faculty association and I was recruited to be an Associate Dean in the Faculty of Health Sciences in 2005.”
That eventually led to joining St. Francis Xavier University as the Academic Vice-President and Provost for a five-year term in which he also had the opportunity to serve as the interim President for a year before landing in North Bay at Nipissing University.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to have this position as President and Vice-Chancellor of Nipissing University. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me and I’m grateful for my previous experiences in giving me all kinds of practice in dealing with people,” says Wamsley.
He says over this five-year term it’s all about creating opportunities.
“What we’re looking for here is to insure that Nipissing University is one of the top-quality academic universities in the country, with respect to primarily undergraduate education and select graduate programs,” he says.
“We also want it to be a university that is very visible in the community and is representing the north and solving the regional issues of the north through peer review research and outstanding teaching and through outstanding programs for all people who come to our campus. And it has to be done in a sustainable fashion as we want this university to be thriving well into the future.”
If sustainability is the key, Wamsley says it will take help from the private sector and all levels of government to properly fund these institutions going forward.
“I think we are all challenged at this time with the funding model for Canadian universities,” says Wamsley.
“When we look at tuition issues and government funding issues it is particularly difficult for a small university with a smaller alumni base in a northern region to really get that recognition.”
But he adds the opportunities to become known as a regional representative looking out for the north are great.
“We can attract students and faculty members who believe in a small to medium sized institution that plays a very important role in the local economy and the local culture of the community.”
Wamsley also says he believes that there are many players at the table that have to be involved in financially supporting students and infrastructure for Canadian universities to thrive into the future.
“I think what the world is telling us through such major events as the pandemic and other challenges such as climate change, there are some serious problems in this world and post-secondary education and research based institutions have the responsibility to solve these problems and that makes them ever so much more important as public institutions,” he says.
“They deserve the attention of our country and of our governments to be adequately funded and also to assume the responsibility to be community leaders in research and in teaching and providing a wonderful intellectual service to our communities. I will argue and argue for the value of post-secondary institutions to serve this role and to be properly funded. I believe should be in part the responsibilities of our governments and in part it should be the responsibility of our institutions through fundraising and redistribution of wealth to support those in need and those are our students.”
Wamsley says one of the most important things he has learned through his career journey is to really listen to the people around you and, “appreciate their lived experiences and you can learn so much from other people and you also learn a lot from helping others. Every person that you meet has something to give and can get something from you too, so it's really about a part of an engaged community.”