One last round of "Convocation magic" for Eastman

Eastman. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

After 13 years as UVic’s University Secretary, Dr. Julia Eastman is stepping down July 6 to retirement. Before doing so, she’ll participate in a final set of Convocation ceremonies.

Eastman has overseen the arrangements for 180 Convocation ceremonies during her tenure despite, she acknowledges with a laugh, not attending any of her own.

Having now been directly involved in so many ceremonies in her official capacity, Eastman says she’s a firm believer in “Convocation magic.” It’s “seeing students and their families so excited to be there, so proud of their achievement in graduating—it’s such a pleasure. I encourage anyone who works at UVic to take in a ceremony. It reminds us how important their time at this university is to our students.”

Convocation comes with many poignant moments, too, she says. Those encompass pride and accomplishment, but also involve people who’ve experienced terrible losses, including individuals there to accept posthumous degrees on behalf of family members or friends.

There’s also the privilege of hearing honorands and leaders like former BC Lieutenant Governor Stephen Point and scholar and educator Gwendolyn Point give “powerful speeches about the transformation of education from a force of oppression of Indigenous people to a force for positive change.” Or listening to award-winning international journalist Stephanie Nolen describe meeting so many people around the world who dream of having the opportunities we have here to learn in a beautiful, comfortable, safe place.

Eastman arrived at UVic from Dalhousie in 2005 after stints with the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Council of Maritime Premiers. As University Secretary, she is responsible for the secretariat for UVic’s Board of Governors and Senate, foundations and senior advisory committees. She’s a member of the university’s Executive Council along with the president and four vice-presidents, and also responsible for overseeing privacy, access to information matters and records management, equity and human rights, and policy coordination and elections at the university.

It’s been a “very interesting constellation of responsibilities,” Eastman says, one that sees her interacting with a wide range of leaders, faculty, students and staff—with her office serving as a kind of “nerve centre” for the governance of the university. She says working at UVic has been a “total privilege” and feels blessed by the “fabulously talented and committed people” with whom she has worked both inside and outside her area.

The job comes with challenges, too, of course. In her retirement, she plans to continue contributing to understanding how Canadian universities can govern themselves effectively in these complex times.

Eastman, who has a PhD in Higher Education from the University of Toronto, will spend the near future working with Glen Jones (OISE), Claude Trottier (Laval), and others writing up a comparative case study they conducted of the governance of six major Canadian universities from five regions across Canada. It will be the first draw on her access to “more personal freedom” that comes with retirement, and is the culmination of more than four years of work.

“Julia is considered the dean of Canadian university secretaries, recognized across the country for her deep experience and wisdom,” says UVic President Jamie Cassels, who also served with Eastman for five years when he was UVic’s vice-president academic.

“For Julia, good governance is the guarantor of quality at universities, and of academic freedom and institutional autonomy,” Cassels continues.

“Students are at the forefront of her thinking in whatever she does. Her role has involved helping the university navigate an ever-changing set of complex, multi-faceted challenges, where there are no easy answers. She’s quiet, thoughtful and courageous, all at the same time, and always solution-focused. I’m going to miss her wise counsel, sage advice and strong support.”

There have been many changes at UVic over the past 13 years, Eastman explains, reflecting parallel changes in society at large, particularly in the use of technology. At the same time, she believes there’s been continuity in UVic’s culture. “The UVic culture is quite distinctive and participatory with an expectation of consultation you won’t necessarily find at other universities,” she says.

Looking back, Eastman notes that universities are complex institutions, and government and public expectations of them are evolving and growing. But, she says, as she hears from her counterparts from across the country, UVic has been “really fortunate” in how its Board of Governors and Senate conduct their work. It’s an accolade she attributes to the spirit in which members of the two bodies approach their duties here. “They’re very committed to UVic and are able to work together and with the administration effectively. It means they can come together around a shared conception of how to move forward.”

The search process for Eastman’s successor is underway. Carrie Andersen, Associate University Secretary, will serve as the acting University Secretary.

Eastman plans to stay put in Victoria after she steps down and “take things as they come,” including out in the water in her kayak.


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Keywords: staff, convocation

People: Julia Eastman

Publication: The Ring

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