New CMU President, Cheryl Pauls


Busts through the glass ceiling

By Amanda Thomas


Cheryl Pauls has spent the last two decades engaged in the community as a professor and pianist. Now, Pauls has embarked on a new chapter as the President of the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU).

What is the most rewarding part of your position?

I love the quality of conversation I’m able to have with a diverse range of people. These include students and staff, leaders and people in business. As well as different professional, community and church spheres, other university presidents, media, government elected officials and public servants. It’s an honour to hear so many people share their dreams, disappointments and insights. I’ve been blown away by how open most of them are with me. I’m also encouraged and challenged by the hope that’s perceived in how we engage and educate students.

What are some of the exciting new developments at CMU?

The most obvious new project is the construction of the Library Commons attached to a bridge across Grant Avenue. The new building, called the Marpeck Commons, will house a library, a bookstore, resource centre, student success centre, cafe and public commons. CMU has built this building to enable the versatility that libraries need into the future, with a lot of opportunity for collaborative and interactive learning. The bridge provides the safety and accessibility that we’ve needed for years; it also connects the campus with a beautiful structure. And the cafe and public commons will connect the internal learning community of the university with surrounding communities.

You have a doctorate in piano performance — tell us about your passion for piano?

Playing the piano is the most holistic thing I know. It awakens what’s raw and intense in me. It also makes me more gracious and less inclined to panic. I find it deeply engaging artistically, physically, intellectually, socially, culturally, emotionally, personally, collaboratively, and spiritually.

After 15 successful years, where does the vision lead CMU for the next 15?

Three watchwords of the day are diversity, sustainability and resilience, and these will get increased attention in terms of who we are, what we offer, how our operations work for the health of the university and the good of society. That might just sound like administrative housekeeping, but for me it’s a way of saying that a comprehensive undergraduate education will remain core but not get stuck. Two of CMU’s strengths are the depth of faculty and peer interaction and the capacity for students who study different things to rub off on each other, both informally and through intentional curricular requirements. On the surface it appears that CMU has changed recently through adding science and business to its curriculum. Dig in a bit deeper, and you’ll see that CMU’s success resides in the ways it crosses common divides between arts and science, for profit and not-for-profit motivation, religious and rational discipline, artistic- and results-based measures. One of the ways this can be seen by the greater public is through our recently launched Face2Face Community in Conversation series. With this series we’re present publicly at the crux of society’s complex concerns. We bring together 2-3 speakers for each event who simply articulate different starting places, a set of questions, experiences and disciplines.

When you look back what’s the accomplishment you hold dearest — personally or professionally?

It’s been an honour to be privy to an unburdening of women just older than me, people for whom my appointment stands as witness that glass ceilings aren’t forever insoluble. That’s not a personal accomplishment, but a tribute to others. On a personal level, well, I’ll back up by saying that I’ve played a lot of music in my day that many people consider to be complicated. I’ve also taught a lot of music theory, which isn’t something that’s found on everyone’s list of the world’s greatest wonders. The accomplishment for me — or perhaps it’s the gift — is learning how to translate this complex and incredibly engaging artistic and academic matter in ways that inspire and carry me through the heart of complex challenges and that finds connections with many people’s everyday lives.