Though some associate a university with permanency and tradition (after all, this is an institution), disruption, too, has a place here, as it does throughout our world.
At the University of Manitoba we speak of our ability to transform lives; disruption, I would suggest, often plays a role in that transformation. The transformations that occur as a result of our efforts, whether in the natural world, in society, in our communities, or in our students’ minds and hearts, often follow a radical change that shocks or startles the status quo.
And those changes work both ways: there are times when as an institution we disrupt, and then there are other times when we are disrupted.
How we manage these upheavals—no matter their origins—how open we are to them, how aware of their impacts, how awake to all their possibilities and implications, defines us as an institution.
Our researchers seek out answers that in many cases upend our understanding of the world; enabling the application of their discoveries can improve our lives.
Our thinkers question our beliefs; being open to their arguments can lift us to new levels of empathy and acceptance.
Our artists shock our sense of beauty and harmony; if we show the courage not to turn away, we find ourselves capable of seeing the world anew.
And our students often challenge our habits, our routines, our customs; if we are attuned to this disruption, we can emerge better-equipped to enrich their journeys of learning and discovery.
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau articulated in our recent conversation, universities are “an extraordinarily fertile ground for improving and developing society in positive ways.”
I often turn to poetry to bring focus to my reflections. In a short poem by Katherine Mansfield titled Across the Red Sky I see some of the themes associated with disruption played out in a breathtaking scene from nature:
Flying with drooping wings.
Silent and solitary their ominous flight.
All day the triumphant sun with yellow banners
Warred and warred with the earth, and when she yielded
Stabbed her heart, gathered her blood in a chalice,
Spilling it over the evening sky.
When the dark plumaged birds go flying, flying,
Quiet lies the earth wrapt in her mournful shadow,
Her sightless eyes turned to the red sky
And the restlessly seeking birds.
Earth, birds, sun and sky. Disruption abounds, and it is difficult to untangle its source or affinities or consequences. Sometimes all we can do is stand back and witness in awe.