St. Thomas University announced on Feb. 8 it found its next president and vice-chancellor in Nauman Farooqi.
Farooqi, who has spent the last 23 years as dean of business and social sciences at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., replaces Dawn Russell, who was set to retire after spending 11 years in the role.
The Aquinian’s editor-in-chief, Aaron Sousa, and The Aquinian’s news editor, Giuliana Grillo de Lambarri, sat down to meet this lifelong car enthusiast and a self-described “accidental academic.”
Early life and career before STU
Farooqi grew up in Pakistan and is the second of four siblings. As a kid, he enjoyed making models of airplanes out of pieces of cardboard and his uncle gave him the keys to his car when he was four, which is how his passion for cars began.
“For a four-year-old kid to have a key to a real car is a very vivid memory and I still remember flaunting it to all my friends and saying ‘that car that you see, this is the key,’” he said.
After completing his Master of Business Administration, he had to choose between a permanent job at the bank where he was working an internship and a scholarship to travel to the United States and do his doctorate in leverage buybacks.
“As a young man [and] adventurous spirit, I said ‘banking can wait. I’d love to go and kind of see what this is all about,’” said Farooqi.
Once he finished his studies, Farooqi pursued teaching, which he found “addictive.” He said it was an exciting opportunity to get to know students and see them accomplish their goals while in university or after graduating.
He moved from the United States to Toronto and later received an offer to work at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick — an opportunity most Torontonians warned him about.
They told him there was “nothing to do” in the Atlantic provinces.
“[The more] they discouraged me from coming to New Brunswick and taking up the opportunity, the more firm I became to check this place out,” he said.
“Fast forward 23 years, I never looked back.”
He started as Mount A’s head of the department of finance and entrepreneurship but then became dean after putting his name forward because he wanted to change things around the university.
“This has been a wonderful journey thus far; a really enriching and fulfilling journey.”
Dealing with STU’s finances
From tuition increases to a $500,000 operating deficit in the 2021-22 academic year, St. Thomas University had its fair share of financial issues and many concerned students, faculty and staff.
The 2022 operating grant was almost $14.9 million, which Farooqi said might not be enough to cover STU’s financial issues.
“I understand that the pandemic has had an impact,” he said. “Government funding [has] not been keeping pace with inflation; it’s more or less stagnant.”
Farooqi said most universities are facing similar pressures on their budgets, which is why many turn to raising tuition fees to compensate for their deficits.
But Farooqi said post-secondary education should be accessible and available to everyone, and it shouldn’t come at the expense of “mortgaging your future.”
“I think the last place that we should look at for revenue is increasing the student tuition,” he said.
Farooqi said he still needs to get into the “nitty gritty” to form a financial plan for STU but noted he will be hearing from the experts who have dealt with the issue before making up his mind.
Farooqi said he and his wife are already looking for a place to move to in Fredericton. The first order of business in his agenda is making himself known around campus.
“I’d like to go around [to] a lot of people … we start with the administration, with the faculty, some student leadership organizations,” he said, noting he will prioritize attending university functions and campus events to learn about STU’s inner workings.
STU announced in February 2021 the president’s report of its senate meetings went to private, in-camera sessions, a decision that came after former president and vice-chancellor Dawn Russell denounced “slanderous comments” about STU’s social work program.
When asked about transparency in university politics, Farooqi said he will look at the reasons why Senate chose to present the president’s report in-camera before making decisions on whether or not to keep it that way.
Farooqi does not have a liberal arts background. Still, he believes liberal arts students are hard-working, passionate and flexible — qualities which he said are needed in the job market.
He has no big plans to change programs at the university — for now.
“I certainly have ideas and I’d love to hear more from people who are at St. Thomas,” said Farooqi.
He believes STU’s future is “bright,” noting a community that is “overly passionate.”
“A lot of good things have happened and a lot more good things will happen in the future,” he said.