Nova Scotia

St. Francis Xavier president won't serve second term

New Glasgow's Kent MacDonald will end his five-year term as president on July 31, 2019. He said he made the decision with his family.

'The timing is probably right to pass the torch,' says Kent MacDonald, whose last day is July 31

Kent MacDonald will not stay on past his five-year term as president of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish. (St. Francis Xavier University)

St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., is looking for a new president.

Kent MacDonald, a New Glasgow native who has held the position for five years, announced Tuesday he will vacate the position when his term expires at the end of July. He made the decision after discussing it with his family.

"St. FX is in a different place than when I came in and my sense is that another president with a different set of skills — the timing is probably right to pass the torch to that person," MacDonald said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

"But it's been a difficult day on a personal level because it's a place I care deeply about."

Accomplishments as president

In his letter to the Xaverian community, MacDonald said St.FX is a place he considers home. Both his parents attended the school in the 1950s, he met his wife there in the 1980s and all four of his children have attended the school over the past decade.

MacDonald noted a number of his personal highlights during his time of president, including making improvements to classrooms and labs and commitment to try to make the university more affordable for under-represented communities through the $50-million Xaverian fund for scholarships and bursaries.

Another highlight, MacDonald noted, was the building of the Mulroney Institute of Government — a major academic learning space set to open this summer. He also listed the Rankin School of Nursing and the Saputo Centre for Healthy Living as other bright spots in his time as president.

Short stint compared to past presidents

MacDonald researches presidential leadership in universities and said he's always keenly aware that it's important to know when it's the right time to step down. He said his five years on the job have flown by. 

St. Francis Xavier University has had only 18 presidents in its 166-year history. (The Canadian Press)

Compared to past St. FX presidents, MacDonald's stint will be short.

He said the university, at 166 years old, has only had 18 presidents. His predecessor, Sean Riley, was in the job for 18 years.

"If you look at presidents today, however, the average time that you're in the role is — depending on who is giving you the data — six, six-and-a-half years," MacDonald said.

"So it's more and more common for a president to be in a role for a shorter amount of time. There are a lot of reasons for that. I do think the job is changing, the expectations are extremely high in terms of fundraising and other pressures on the president."

Advice to the next president

MacDonald said the next president of St. FX needs to understand the university is "a very different place" and that he or she must 100 per cent committed to the job and the school.

"It's a community. Most of our students come to live on campus. It's in a very small town, Antigonish ... you are living in a bubble," MacDonald said.

"And you need to be absolutely aware of the absolute intensity of the community, internal and around us, how important this institution is to this part of the province."

MacDonald said he will take his time to figure out his next career move.

A 'true Xaverian'

In a letter to the St. FX community, Mike Boyd — the chairperson of the board of governors for the university — praised MacDonald.

"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 said in the letter.

Boyd noted the search for the next president will begin "in the weeks ahead."

His letter concluded by thanking MacDonald for his leadership and "unwavering dedication to this wonderful institution."

"He is a true Xaverian and I know he will continue to be a great friend and supporter of St. FX in the future," Boyd said.


Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.


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