The current principal/vice-president of Laurier Brantford is headed to the University of Windsor to assume the position of provost/vice-president academic, starting in April 2010.

But after 26 years at Wilfrid Laurier University, over 10 of which were spent in Brantford, Dr. Leo Groarke’s imminent departure is bittersweet.

“It’s absolutely difficult to leave Brantford. I love Brantford,” Groarke said. “It’s difficult to pull away. I’m sad, but I’m also excited about Windsor.”

Dr. Groarke, who joined Laurier as a professor of philosophy in 1983, was appointed dean of Laurier Brantford in 2000. In 2007, he became the first principal/vice-president of the Brantford campus—a role he returned to this year after acting as the campus’ acting vice-president academic last year.

His experiences at Laurier have primed him for his latest challenge in Windsor, a city which he says is similar to Brantford.

“Both cities unfairly have bad reputations and, like Brantford, Windsor has its own challenges. It’s interesting to me,” he stated. “And just like it is here, the university has a significant role to play in helping the city.”

The new challenge is what excites Dr. Groarke the most. Having been offered the position only a few weeks ago after the end of a long search process, he confessed that the decision did not come easily, and that it took over a year of thinking. He also admitted to having based his decision on his own personal accomplishments.

“I came to Brantford to try to turn this campus around since it had a lot of troubles early on. I, along with other staff, very successfully found a way to turn it around,” he said. “From a personal point of view, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish, and now there are fascinating things in this campus’ future.”

He added, “My own thinking was that I’ve done what I came to do, and now it’s time to hand over the reins to someone else. There’s a new challenge for me and that’s Windsor.”
While the exact date of his departure has yet to be determined, Dr. Groarke still has a few last-minute things he would like to accomplish. One is that he would like to see some more academic development.

“We’re in talks over starting a business program with the leadership program,” he explained. “I hope that before I go, I can initiate that discussion and to get people thinking about it.”
Another goal Dr. Groarke hopes to accomplish is to properly promote his upcoming book, Reinventing Brantford: A University Comes Downtown in January. The book details the positive impact Laurier has had on Brantford, or as he would explain it, “the untold story of the campus.”

By promoting the book to other campuses and cities, including Windsor, Dr. Groarke hopes the book will be a nice way to say goodbye to the campus.

“It will give me a chance to reminisce,” he said. “It will also be a great opportunity to raise awareness of the campus to other schools.”

As students and faculty are already aware, the Brantford campus has experienced tremendous growth during Dr. Groarke’s tenure. From a struggling campus of less than 100 students and just one building to the current size of nearly 2,400 students and 16 buildings, he has been a driving force in the campus’ growth and development.

One lesson he is taking away from the experience is that, “in the bleakest of situations, there is opportunity and there is hope. And it is quite remarkable what creative individuals can accomplish.”

With his Laurier Brantford chapter coming to a close, Dr. Groarke recalls that his most significant accomplishment was “bringing the campus to a situation where there’s really no doubt about the future.”

He said that, despite inevitable challenges, there are no longer any doubts that the Brantford campus will be here in 100 years.

As for the future of the campus, Dr. Groarke hopes the campus continues to grow and develop in a way that provides students and faculty with opportunities, as well as continuing to revitalize the downtown core in a way that is sensitive to the issues and heritage of the city.
He also would like to encourage the students, faculty and staff to “take ownership of the campus.”

“The campus belongs to you,” he said. “Take care of it.”
Dr. Groarke is slated to meet with president Dr. Max Blouw sometime this week to determine his date of departure.