A walk through the Institute with Dr. Webber
You would be forgiven for not knowing, or much at all, about the Coady Institute, a part of St. Francis Xavier for more than 60 years. Although a quiet and reflective part of the university, recent events have thrust the Institute into the spotlight regarding alleged financial fraud and an article in the Chronicle Herald detailing the “droves” of staff reported to have left the Institute over the change of direction since the hiring of Dr. June Webber as director three years ago.
Dr. Webber was kind enough to talk to the Xaverian about some of the controversy surrounding the Institute not long after her arrival. Dr. Webber was unable to provide any details regarding the dismissal of Mr. Marlow, as that case is currently before the courts. However, Dr. Webber did provide some time to show me around the Coady Institute, a world-renowned organization interested in providing important educational opportunities to community leaders from around the world committed to fighting for economic and social justice.
I had intended to directly ask Dr. Webber about the staff who had supposedly left Coady due to the reportedly “toxic environment” that a number of other staff members had written about in an internal letter to the Executive of the Institute, but first Dr. Webber introduced me to some of the people who work and attend the Coady Institute’s impressive programs. I was introduced to some inspiring people who come from incredible backgrounds and their attendance at Coady is certainly a testament to their strength of character and will.
I wanted to know how Dr. Webber felt about the level of turnover reported in the Chronicle Herald last month. According to their source, 19 people had left the Coady in the time that Dr. Webber had taken helm of the Institute; however, Dr. Webber disagrees and counters that only 16 people had left, and a 44% turnover is a natural rate of turnover for the Institute. Dr. Webber defends the number of leaves as a mixture of retirements, staff leaving for other opportunities, as well as natural changes in staff. The Chronicle Herald had reported that Dr. Webber planned that the reduction of the staff also came from the plan to end the use of associate staff, but when I asked Dr. Webber about this she replied that the Coady Institute will continue to use associate staff and that the reporting by Chronicle Herald was “inaccurate,” in fact Dr. Webber is hoping to add greater staff representation from the global north and south.
Part of the controversy regarding Coady and the staff resignations, is that under Dr. Webber, there has been a change of direction for the Institute, some claiming this change is deleterious for the Institute and disrespectful of staff. I asked Dr. Webber about this and while she did acknowledge there was a new direction for Coady, she disagreed that it was substantially different from the founding principles of Moses Coady.
The direction was made, she told me, after feeling that there was good foundation for the work of the Coady, but that at the time of her arrival it lacked strategy. When Coady was founded, there were very few developmental organizations in the world and the Institute’s mission was wide-ranging. Since that time, however, developmental organizations are much more commonplace, and Dr. Webber believes now, more than ever, Coady must have a stronger strategy and direction in order to compete among the myriad of organizations struggling to be a part of the solution in the world. She told me that Coady is changing perspectives, from a deficit model of support, to an asset model.
This is one part of the three major differences Dr. Webber sees as having usher in since her helming of the Coady Institute. Summarized briefly; first, the Coady Institute seeks now to work with an overarching strategy to understand the contexts of where they are and consolidation the collective thinking of people with Coady.
Secondly, it is important to look at and assess the programs that Coady is using, how can they most effectively direct their energies.
Finally, Dr. Webber sees Coady has having a place not just in the developing world, where, historically, the focus of Coady programs have centered, but now, seeking a truly global approach that includes the inequities experienced by communities in Canada and America and other developed nations, indeed during my tour of the building Dr. Webber highlighted the recent initiative to bring Indigenous Canadian women to Coady to become leaders in their communities. It is no secret that communities and people across Canada and America face severe resource, infrastructure, and support shortages and inequities (infamously, a considerable number of indigenous communities have gone decades without clean water in Canada), while populated by ambitious and talented people, just waiting for opportunity, an opportunity that Dr. Webber hopes that Coady can provide to people from Canada to Zambia to India and all and any nation in between.
Before I leave, I ask Dr. Webber how she feels about the reputation of the Coady Institute considering the controversy that’s made its way into national news. She answers firmly, that the Institute does remarkable work internationally and that their capable and talented staff are needed more than ever to counter the rise of inequality globally and in Canada.