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Thursday, May 24, 2001

  • Introducing the new provost
  • What Amit Chakma has to say
  • Prof's book is good for a laugh
  • What more can anyone say?


Introducing the new provost

David Johnston, the president of UW, first met the university's new provost in China earlier this year. He and Amit Chakma, vice-president (research) of the University of Regina, were among a hundred Canadian university leaders taking part in the "Team Canada" visit to the far east, and Johnston and Chakma ended up in the same discussion group during a meeting with Chinese academics in Shanghai.

"I was impressed with him," says Johnston. But it took a consultant to suggest Chakma as a candidate for the provost's position at UW, and more than one phone call before Chakma agreed to let his name be considered.

Yesterday, Chakma (right) was announced as UW's next vice-president (academic) and provost. He'll start work August 1, taking over from acting provost Alan George, who returns to his regular job as dean of math.

"I'm excited -- thrilled," Chakma said in a phone interview, adding that ever since he realized he might be chosen, he's been reading voraciously about Waterloo. "I'm looking forward to a learning process," he noted. "Until you're there, you don't really know the place. . . . But I think I'm a fast learner."

Chakma, 42, is a Professional Engineer. He's been VP (research) at Regina for two years, and before that he served as Regina's dean of engineering for three years. His field is chemical engineering, with an emphasis on natural gas engineering and petroleum waste management. He also has an interest in atmospheric pollution, with a focus on finding short-term solutions to carbon dioxide-induced global warming.

The UW board of governors, appointing Chakma to be provost on the advice of a nominating committee and the university senate, also gave him a tenured appointment in the chemical engineering department.

Chakma's first degree is from the Institut Algerien du Petrole; his master's and PhD are from the University of British Columbia. He taught at the Université de Sherbrooke and the University of Calgary before arriving at Regina in 1996, and has been a visiting professor in New Zealand, Thailand and China.

He is a member of the council of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and many other scientific bodies, and holds various awards, including a "Canada's Top 40 Under 40" award received in 1998.

"There were several very strong candidates, both internal and external, for the position," said Johnston in a presidential memo to the campus yesterday. "I would like to thank them for their willingness to be considered and for their time and effort in participating in the interview process. Dr. Chakma understands the relevance and importance of all estates in the university, and will bring energy, vitality and vision in his academic and provostial leadership at Waterloo."

What Amit Chakma has to say

"I'm really thrilled to be appointed," says Amit Chakma, who will take on UW's number two position later this summer. "I'm looking forward to working with very distinguished faculty and staff and students.

"I'd like Waterloo's reputation to go beyond Canada, and make it one of the most innovative universities in the world. . . . Today's innovators will be tomorrow's leaders. We have to be vigilant, we have to work hard and maintain that edge, and if we do, we can really be leaders in the future."

Chakma's biggest research project

UW news release

Yes, these are tough times for universities, Chakma said in a telephone interview from Regina, but he'd rather look at the up-side -- such as the federal government's commitment "to double or triple opportunities in the next decade. Places like Waterloo can play a big role in that, responding to some of these demands. There are challenges, budgetary and otherwise, but all those opportunities did not exist five years ago."

Similarly, he insists, "I look at the double cohort as an opportunity!"

I asked him to talk about himself, his management style and the approach he'll take to the provost's job. "I like to explore new things," he said. "I consider myself an innovative person. I'm able to put together teams.

"As a personal characteristic, I'm a very open and honest person, and I find that I can develop relationships with people I work with. . . . I can relate to colleagues, I can relate to superiors and I can relate to people who are in a support staff role. It's a matter of mutual respect.

"This is not a one-person show -- it has to be a team effort. I'm certainly not a micro-manager, and I don't intend to become one. You have no choice but to listen to people.

"I know I will like it!" And he used the word "thrilled" once or twice more.

Some other notes about Amit Chakma: Married, two sons. Serves on the steering committee of the Canadian National Site Licensing Project. Has received research grants of more than $6.6 million in the past four years. Elected last year to the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences. News junkie. Canadian citizen, comfortable around the world. "I come from a hill tribe in southeastern Bangladesh. . . . I speak four languages. If I have time, I'll learn a few more!"

Prof's book is good for a laugh

Having a sense of humour can help us stay healthy, says Herb Lefcourt, professor emeritus of psychology at UW, in his new book, Humour: The Psychology of Living Buoyantly.

Lefcourt was asked to do the book by Plenum Publishers as part of a series in social clinical psychology. He has long been interested in humour and how it can be beneficial, or detrimental, to physical as well as emotional well-being.

"I published an earlier book on humour and life stresses back in '86," Lefcourt notes. "I have continued to do research in this field."

It is an eclectic book, drawing from a variety of sources including his own recent research, that of other psychologists working in the field, humorous stories shared by students in his seminar on the psychology of humour, his recollections of family incidents in his childhood, the writings of psychiatrists, theologians, philosophers, natural scientists, and others. Above all its focus is on humour as a "stress moderator", and he argues there is a link between humour and our emotional and even physical well-being.

Lefcourt defines humour as something that often "grows out of adversity," and says it is ephemeral -- unless the situation is "just so", involving the right timing, the right facial expression, an appropriate relationship between those involved, and so on, it doesn't happen.

"Self-deprecating humour" as opposed to hostile humour has been found to be associated with lower blood pressure and with increased concentrations of salivary Immunoglobulin-A, which serves to protect the upper respiratory tract from infection -- which can mean you are less likely to develop colds and flu.

Previous research has clearly shown a link between stress and illness. Significant numbers of stress-causing "life changes" within a short period of time are likely to leave an otherwise healthy individual more susceptible to illness, Lefcourt says.

In looking at the role of humour as a moderator of stress, there are indications that humour, which enhances social cohesion, has positive health effects through its reduction of emotional distress. On the other hand, hostile humour that pits the humourist against others is upsetting and may even cause an increase in adrenal secretions in the body -- the "fight or flight" reaction -- possibly to the point that it can become harmful to health.

What more can anyone say?

On a morning when the sun is shining, and UW's financial troubles are the front-page headline news in the Record . . .

First of all, a recent Bulletin noted the retirement of Mary Gerhardstein of UW's English department, giving her retirement date as May 1. In fact there's been a correction; the official retirement date will be September 1.

Participants will be arriving today for this year's Canadian Powder Diffraction Workshop sponsored by UW's department of physics. Faculty member Bruce Torrie is the local organizer. About 35 people from other institutions and industry expected for the course, tomorrow and Saturday. Says the web site: "The format of the event consists of talks on various aspects of X-ray and neutron powder diffraction followed by practical exercises in the afternoon. Standard exercises will be provided by the speakers, and participants are encouraged to bring their own problems on which to work."

UW's joint health and safety committee will meet at 1:30 this afternoon in Needles Hall room 3004. Agenda items range from fire drills and safety in student workshops to the problem of bird droppings.

The workshop series on "reducing poverty in urban areas" that has been running since early April, sponsored by UW's Urban Environmental Management Project, winds up tonight. This final session, starting at 7 p.m. at Kitchener city hall, is titled "So What? Moving Forward Through Understanding", and stars Joe Mancini of the Working Centre in Kitchener.

It's movie night again, sponsored by the Math Society. Tonight's flicks are "Terminator II" at 7:00 and "6th Day" at 9:20, in Davis Centre room 1302. Admission is $2.

UW's senate gave approval Monday night to a revised text of Policy 3 on sabbaticals and leaves of absence for faculty members. The document has been many months in the drafting and re-drafting; the major change is that young professors will now be eligible to apply for a six-month sabbatical leave at full salary rather than 80 per cent salary. Coming next from the faculty relations and staff relations committee: an overhauled text of Policy 59, about reduced workload.

And here's a note from the local Volunteer Action Centre: "Introducing a new, exciting, and fun volunteer opportunity for a great cause! The Heart and Stroke Foundation is holding its first annual Dusk 'til Dawn Relay to raise funds for research. The event includes live entertainment, games, prizes and food, not to mention a kickoff ceremony, a torchlight parade and much more. This all-night fundraiser needs volunteers between 8 a.m. on Friday, June 22, and 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 23, at Resurrection Catholic Secondary School. Volunteers may choose the time that best suits their schedule." For more information, the VAC can be reached at 742-8610.


[UW logo] Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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