Overcoming dyslexia in high school and beating prostate cancer three years ago, Dr. Gervan Fearon is a living example that obstacles aren’t insurmountable and goals – despite their loftiness – are attainable.
Last Friday, he was installed as Brandon University’s 15th president and vice-chancellor, making him the first Black to hold the position.
Founded as a Baptist institution in Manitoba in 1899, Brandon received its university status 47 years ago.
In his installation speech, Dr. Fearon said he has high expectations for the university, which promotes excellence in teaching, research and scholarship.
“Being a leading innovator and engaged university of choice is our goal,” he said. “Aiming to serve students and alumni as well as to partner with community stakeholders and build and create possibilities for the betterment of society is our quest.”
Fearon joined Brandon last year as vice-president (academic and provost) after spending four years as Dean of Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Learning, Canada’s leading provider of university-based adult learning.
Appointed vice-chancellor and president-elect four months ago, he spoke about his commitment to post-secondary education and his perception of the role of universities.
“I see post-secondary education as transformative for individuals, communities and societies,” said Fearon, a former Ontario Trillium Foundation board member. “Throughout the ages, new possibilities, prosperity and creativity can all be linked to education and the role of universities. Brandon University and other universities in Canada and across the world can serve as beacons of hope for humanity by conducting research, engaging in scholarship activity and developing innovative solutions for addressing the challenges of the world.”
In addition to his chief executive duties, Fearon teaches a fourth-year Mathematical Economics course and is honing his saxophone skills with the help of Shannon Gadbois, who is a music instructor at the university.
“I have been playing the sax for nearly six years and I recently played at the University of Manitoba along with that institution’s president, Dr. David Barnard, who is a guitarist,” he said. “The creative arts actually provide us with the scope to extend our imagination and seek new possibilities and solutions and as a result represent a vital component of the mosaic of this university.”
Derrick Stewart, the chair of the university’s board of governors, said he believes that Fearon is the transformational leader the university needs at this critical juncture.
“A university has the ability to transform lives, expand horizons and create opportunities for people who work towards a better world,” he said. “However, to attain such lofty goals, a university requires a visionary leader. It’s my sincere belief that Dr. Fearon is exactly that leader.”
Stewart was part of the presidential search team that vetted Fearon.
“It was during the course of a breakfast conversation that he spoke passionately of the trajectory of the university and where he wants to see the institution in the future,” said Stewart. “His intent was clear and that was to ensure that Brandon University reaches its full potential during and after his tenure as president. In the time I have known Dr. Fearon, I have come to realize that this is how he takes on any problem. He determines where he wants to end up and how he’s going to get there. This is not a person who looks at any challenge from a micro level.”
Brandon University’s chancellor, Michael Decter, pledged his support to make Fearon’s presidency a success.
“I believe that when we look back at this day, it will be the beginning of some really interesting and positive development for Brandon University under Dr. Fearon’s leadership and I am excited about that,” he said.
Manitoba’s aboriginal community openly welcomed Fearon to the university and presented him with gifts, including a ceremonial knife.
Born in England to Jamaican parents, Fearon spent three years in Jamaica before coming to Canada at age nine.
After graduating from high school (he attended Bathurst Heights Collegiate and West Hill Collegiate), he successfully pursued a Bachelor’s of Economics degree and a Master’s in Agriculture from the University of Guelph in 1981 and 1985, respectively and a doctorate in Economics from the University of Western Ontario in 1999. He also completed the Queen’s University Strategic Leadership program.
A visiting scholar at the University of Washington and faculty administrative leader of York University’s TD Community Engagement Centre, which is an innovative, community-based facility designed to improve public access and involvement in university activities and resources, Fearon was the recipient of the University of Toronto at Scarborough Division of Management’s Professor of the Year Award in 2000 and the 2007 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching from York University.
In addition to teaching, he has worked in the public and private sectors, including Chase Econometrics of Chase Manhattan Bank in Pennsylvania, where he tackled some of the organization’s large scale mathematical and forecasting modules.
Fearon also served as chief executive officer of Launch Fusion Communication, an award-winning website which provided online access to over 200 international newspapers and radio stations and president of Nucore Business and Economic Services.
A former president of Tropicana Community Services, the largest Black social service delivery agency in Canada, Fearon is a member of the Jamaican Canadian Association and a major contributor to a community report – Towards a Vision for our Community – that was unveiled last October.
His five-year term as president ends on July 31, 2019.