Last term, Barry Craig and his wife, Sara MacDonald, drove to the Fredericton airport on his way to a job interview with Huron College in London Ont.
“This is it,” thought the vice president of academic and research at St. Thomas. “If I get on this plane… I knew we were committed.”
He spent 13 “gruelling” hours of interviews with everyone from the board of governors to the faculty union and members of the public. Five days later, back in Fredericton, Craig received the call offering him the job as president of the liberal arts college affiliated with Western University. He had five seconds to say yes or no.
“I looked at my wife and I said ‘we’re going.’”
For the last eight years, Craig has been responsible for all educational aspects of St. Thomas University, but starting July 1, he starts a new chapter in his academic life.
He says landing the job has been exhilarating but bittersweet.
Sitting in the crowded Starbucks, Craig smiles often, and his calm, even voice seems out of place in the chaotic cafe. He speaks proudly of the diversity and achievements of St. Thomas students, and he sometimes touches the T-Pin he wears on his lapel.
“Everything I’ve done as vice president was with the end of becoming a first-class education (provider),” Craig said.
“I’ll miss the people… It will be tough to say goodbye,” he said.
Craig became part of the administration at STU following the 2007-2008 strike and lockout.
“I thought I could help make a difference in getting things normalized and trying to be a balance,” he said, “I wanted to be a real leader in the field.”
That field is liberal arts. Although he believes education for practical and professional goals is important, Craig thinks liberal arts education is necessary for civilized society.
“We need people who think critically and ask questions about everything.”
This is partly why he chose Huron. It is similar to St. Thomas in its emphasis on liberal arts.
Huron is a university founded by the Anglican church, much as STU was founded by Roman Catholics. Craig says it‘s co-incidental that he will work in two universities founded in religion, as he’s been an ordained Anglican minister since 1985.
“It was a funny irony but it’s never been a factor.”
Craig has a masters from Dalhousie and did his PhD in theology and religious studies in Wales. He worked for 15 years in rural and suburban parishes in New Brunswick before joining STU’s philosophy department in 2000.
Perhaps, that explains his friendly demeanor and button down, meticulous attire. Craig doesn’t know if he became to be a minister because of his personality, or if his personality was shaped by being a minister. Either way he has always loved helping and guiding people.
Before working in administration, he taught philosophy at STU for almost 10 years. His wife, Sara MacDonald, teaches in the Great Books program. She’ll continue teaching this semester, but will be on sabbatical next year which will give her time to figure out her next step.
“The other night we were counting… we have 37 years of St. Thomas between us,” said Craig.
Craig has contributed much to St. Thomas as an institution, but he hesitates at taking credit.
“I don’t think there’s any one thing that someone is going to build a statue for. It’s the day-to-day working with the students and the faculty trying to build a stronger educational institution.”
Craig’s even-keeled voice becomes more animated when he speaks about teaching. His new position at Huron could allow him to get back in the classroom. At STU he was only able to do a few guest lectures.
He said he’s loved teaching since he first started doing some at Dal and then with the church.
“It dropped into my lap by providence, which was fantastic,” he said.
“(When I started teaching at STU I said to my boss) ‘I know I shouldn’t be saying this but you don’t even have to pay me for this job it’s so much fun. I would do it for nothing.’”
He hopes this new position will provide a middle ground between teaching and administration.
“It’s sort of coming full circle. I’m coming somewhere where I didn’t know I would be again in my life.”
“Sometimes you get caught up in the machinery of (administration) but I never want to lose sight of the real reason for education—the kids and the classrooms.”
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