Dal’s new president talks partnerships amid tight finances

Richard Florizone succeeds Tom Traves as president of Dalhousie University

This story has been updated since initially published.

The new president’s experience in finance will be put to use as Dal faces budget constraints. 

Richard Florizone, new president of Dalhousie. Photo: Beth Hendry

“Compared to the last decade or two we’re entering a period of tighter public support, and that’s not just for higher education and that’s not just true in Nova Scotia, it’s true across the sector, and across North America,” he said.

He is optimistic about bringing money to the university, citing the private sector and all levels of government as potential resources.

“I sense in the public, the government, the donors, there’s still an awareness of some of these grand challenges we face in society, whether it’s around the environment, around the growing cost of healthcare, around water and food security,” he said. “I do believe that there will continue to be big opportunities in the future to attract some of the resources and partnerships to pursue those big areas.”

Richard Florizone succeeds Tom Traves as president of Dalhousie University in July.

He will make the move from vice president of finance and resources at the University of Saskatchewan. The committee tasked with finding a new president was unanimous in their choice.

Florizone will arrive at Dal off the heels of a year-long stint as senior adviser to the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, that helps businesses get off the ground in developing countries.

He cited Dal’s Canada Excellence Research Chair in ocean science and technology as an example of the kind of program he wants to attract.

Florizone may not have moved to Halifax yet, but he’s up on some of the local current events. He mentioned a possible partnership with the city while discussing the school’s finances: “We’ll continue to look at how it grows, and will there be potential to partner with them on student issues, like a new ice rink.”

His professional experience is varied. He has a degree in engineering physics from the University of Saskatchewan and a PhD in physics from MIT. After graduating he went on to work for the Boston Consulting Group, Cambridge University and Bombardier, among others.

In 2005 he started working for the University of Saskatchewan. “My heart keeps bringing me back to universities. I really think they’re wonderful and very important fundamental social institutions,” he said.

One of the first things Florizone wants to do is hold “100 days of listening,” a project he describes as a consultation with everyone involved with the university including students, faculty, staff and some potential outside partners with the aim to tease out common themes and come to an understanding.

He said meetings might start as early as July, but that he understands most students arrive in September.

Florizone is married to Mona Holmlund, an assistant professor of art history. The couple has two daughters, Zoë and Elinor.

Dalhousie Faculty Association skeptical

The response to Florizone’s appointment has not been entirely positive. David Mensink, president of the Dalhousie Faculty Association, expressed concern with the news.

“Dalhousie University has by-passed the usual university-wide round of consultations on new university candidates. As recently as February 2011, the candidates for the academic vice-president job were interviewed by faculty groups, which is customary in a university setting,” he said in a statement released by the association.

Mensink refers to the appointment of Carolyn Watters as vice-president of academics. He said Dal faculty was presented with three candidates and the opportunity to discuss with them, before making a recommendation.

This time, “an announcement was made that was not open for consultation,” he said.

Mensink also has reservations about Florizone’s suitability to the job.

In an interview he addressed the issue of Florizone’s lack of academic experience. “It’s a question of understanding the three main functions of a professor are teaching, research and service,” he said.

As for Florizone’s “100 days of listening plan,” Mensink said, “I really hope that it’s not limited to a hundred days.”

Update: Nov. 9: The Dalhousie Faculty Associations' response to Florizone's appointment has been added to the story