Dr. Stuart Adam: A profile

He was, by his own admission, an indifferent student coming into second-year journalism at Carleton University. But then he experienced the Introduction to Reporting course, taught in 1961-62 by Professor Joseph Scanlon, and that took him across a threshold. It lit a fire that has fuelled commitment to journalism and to Carleton University for nearly four decades.

Now 64, and after 25 years as an academic administrator, Dr. Stuart Adam will leave his office in the Tory Building this summer and head back to his roots in the School of Journalism and Communication — where he will do some graduate-level teaching and a lot of writing. Since being appointed Dean of Arts in 1992 and then Vice-President (Academic) in 1997, he has accumulated a backlog of material that he says is waiting for an opportunity to surface. Some of it will take the form of a book he says he has in him called Freedom of Expression and the Canadian Legal System, and some of it will emerge in essays dealing with the philosophy of journalism.

The backlog is the consequence of several hectic years with more pressing items on his “to do” list.

When he was appointed Chair of Carleton’s Working Group on Academic Renewal in the summer of 1996, it was what Adam refers to as “the white knuckle period” for the University. Part of that story began in the early 1990s when a low ranking in the Maclean’s annual rating of Canadian universities projected a very weak image. Coupled with consecutive years of government funding cutbacks and declining enrolments in the B.A. program, the University as a whole was suffering.

By October of 1996, Adam’s working group had put together Steps Towards Renewal which would lay the groundwork for the rejuvenation of the University and the continuing revitalization of the quality of the student body. Its mandate, in simplest terms, was to strengthen the University’s identity, focus, and student body. Simple terms perhaps, but a Herculean task to ensure the strong future of the institution.

While the Report recommended that public affairs and advanced technologies should be pushed into the foreground of the University’s structure and identity, the rehabilitation of the B.A. program was a critical piece of Carleton’s recovery. The specialized schools like journalism, architecture, and engineering were still successful in terms of demand and reputation, but the same could not be said for the B.A. program in 1996.

“The study of the arts, social sciences, and science provides an essential foundation for the maintenance and development of the civilization we have built in Canada. To diminish the liberal arts is to diminish the vigor of our economic and political lives, not to mention our private lives,” Adam says.

Because of this vision, the University is reaping the rewards today. “Stuart Adam is the heart and soul of Carleton,” says Carleton President Richard Van Loon. “He was at the centre of our renewal process as the leader of the Task Force on Academic Renewal in 1996, and he led and consolidated the changes it foreshadowed. Carleton would simply not be the success it is today without him.”

One result of Steps, and something Adam is personally proud of, is the creation of the first-year seminars.

“It’s an attempt to build a threshold experience which combines social and intellectual components,” he explains. And its genesis can be traced to the days of Adam’s own experience as a student and professor in the small reporting and seminar classes in journalism. “When I became Dean of Arts, I was worried about class size. In those large classes, the students didn’t appear to connect sufficiently with one another or with their instructors.” Since 1998, every student in the B.A. program takes a first-year seminar (which is discipline based) in a maximum class size of 30.

He has left a lasting impression on the legions of students with whom he has come in contact. “Stuart was then, and has continued to be, an easily approachable professor with a lively mind and engaging manner,” recalls Globe and Mail Editor Edward Greenspon (B.J./79). “He’s just like a professor should be—smart and interested in the students.”

Jane Gilbert (B.J./80) of The Discovery Channel also remembers his sharp intellect. “Stuart Adam was on the Board when I defended my Honours Research Paper. I’d done my homework. I thought I’d covered everything. But Stuart found the one angle and the one question I hadn’t even considered. I’ll never forget the feeling. He taught me to NEVER underestimate your editor or your audience!”

Looking back on this period of his life, Adam admits it was a very taxing and emotionally demanding time. But he calls it a life-changing experience and says working together with the other vice-presidents and President Van Loon has been “one of the most unusual and invigorating experiences of my life.”

When Adam first came to Carleton University to teach journalism, he says he had decided to do so because “it’s very important to get it right.” He says journalists carry a huge burden in this world which, as he puts it, is to bring our world to consciousness such that there can be an effective democratic conversation. He calls journalism an extremely important building block in the architecture of democracy.

And that’s why you know that when Stuart Adam formally retires in 2005, he won’t be trading academia for fishing.

“I’m very much a university person. It’s an intellectual and conversational site, a place for intelligence. I love the collegial life. I’ll be around… I’m not going anywhere.”

He has left a lasting impression on the legions of students with whom he has come in contact.

Career highlights:

To list Stuart Adam’s many accomplishments and publications, we’d end up filling the pages of this edition of Carleton NOW. So, while in no way diminishing the significance of all of his achievements and successes, this a brief snapshot of his career at Carleton:

1963: Bachelor of Journalism; during his last year in the program, he was editor of The Carleton (The Charlatan’s forerunner).

1968: After various stints at The Toronto Star, he became an editorial writer for The Ottawa Journal. Then Director of the School of Journalism, Joe Scanlon, persuaded The Journal and Adam that Carleton’s need was greater. Says Scanlon today: “Maybe I need to bear some of the responsibility for The Journal folding while Carleton prospered!”

1969: He took leave from Carleton to study Political Science at Queen’s, principally under the supervision of J.A.W. Gunn, a renowned theorist, where he completed his Ph.D.

1973: Director of the School of Journalism. When he took over, there were 12 faculty members in a school that offered a bachelor’s degree. By the end of his term as Director, there were 24 full-time faculty offering applied and research degrees in both the undergraduate and master’s levels.

1992: Stuart Adam was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Arts. During his five-year term, he worked to integrate a number of small units into schools and was instrumental in lauching the intensive honours program in liberal arts leading to the degree of Bachelor of Humanities.

1996: As Chair of the Working Group on Academic Renewal, Adam’s work was integral to the restructuring and revitalization of the University.

1997: Dr. Adam appointed as Carleton’s Vice-President (Academic) and Provost.

2003: When he “retires” as Vice-President (Academic) at the end of June, the sign on his door will not read “Gone Fishing.”

This entry was written by Andrea Douglas and posted in the issue. Tags applied to this article are: . Leave a comment, bookmark the permalink or share the following short URL for this article via social media: http://carletonnow.carleton.ca/?p=2005

Be a part of the Carleton Now community

Carleton Now strives to be an inclusive, relevant and informative publication focused on building and fostering an engaged campus community. You can be a part of our community by: sharing or voting for this article (below), joining in the conversation, or by sending a submission/letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.

Current issue