A president with personality
There’s no tweed or stuffiness inside the president’s office at Cap U.
In fact, today the North Vancouver university’s president is decked out in a zebra-print blazer with a poodle brooch on her lapel, slacks and sensible black shoes.
Kris Bulcroft admits she’s not your prototypical university president, something she’s proud of.
“I rejected it,” says the Prius-driving PhD.
“Cap is the perfect fit. I can be myself here.”
Bulcroft, who has more than two decades of experience as a professor and academic administrator, took it as a major compliment a few months after she was hired when a staff member told her: “You’re exactly the person we interviewed.”
“The fit is everything,” says Bulcroft, whose husband Richard is an associate professor of sociology at Bellingham’s Western Washington University.
She wanted the Cap job, but didn’t need it so badly that she couldn’t be herself during the interview process.
Bulcroft officially began at Capilano U in August 2010, moving into the president’s office on the fourth floor of the Birch Building.
It was a palatial space with postcard views of the city. But she hated it.
“Very isolated, very removed, I never saw students — I felt cut off from the campus,” she recalls.
So she decided to move to a smaller office on the main floor of the Arbutus Building, bringing all her vice-presidents along with her.
“As you can see it’s right here in dead centre of campus,” she says.
The glass-fronted building makes all the president’s men and women highly visible.
And while that all-access proximity might not work at all schools, it does at Cap.
“I think especially here: we’re all about relationships — small classes, small faculty. It fits the culture of Cap.”
As you might expect, Bulcroft’s office isn’t a sterile place decorated only with framed degrees and certificates. It reflects her personality. The walls and shelves are adorned with vibrant art, photos and a few kitschy items, like a pink ceramic poodle (she’s crazy about poodles and is posing in the photo at the right with her dog Margaux, named after the French wine Château Margaux).
“I wanted it to feel like home,” says Bulcroft, who spends long hours on campus and unwinds by taking nature walks and cooking.
She also ordered a red sofa and grey chairs — “contemporary, functional” — for visitors to sit comfortably for a chat. And she gets a lot of visitors.
Bulcroft has an open-door policy with students, faculty and staff. Most of the students who drop by simply want to share a bit of good news or maybe discuss some ideas they have.
She loves the interaction with the students.
“I miss the teaching part, you learn so much from students.”
“Look at them out there,” she says, pointing to a group of hacky sack players outside the window of her first-floor office. “And I have a ringside seat.”
Whenever she gets the chance, like she did this morning inside a business class, the prof-turned-president is always up for an energetic exchange of ideas.
She walks the campus regularly, stopping to talk to students, many of whom she has gotten to know by name. Most call her Kris.
Once a month she meets with a group from Student Voices to discuss topics ranging from how best to engage Cap alumni to help current students to the importance of a student pub.
Along with a chance to sit down with the president, the students also get to request whatever they want for lunch. Bulcroft, who takes the order to food services, smiles when recalling a recent order — Tater Tot casserole.
When Bulcroft first arrived at Cap, she walked around the campus and noticed there seemed to be a dearth of collaborative spaces for students to informally gather and exchange ideas.
“[The] deepest learning takes place during peer to peer,” she says.
Since she arrived, the university has been busy changing what she calls the “pass-through” architecture to make it more of a “destination campus,” with lots of room for students to hang out.
Recently the school has opened the Aboriginal Student Centre, renovated the gathering space at the Student Union building and in June will unveil the Centre for International Experience.
Next, Bulcroft has her sights on a library reno. “We’ve been able to make physical changes to meeting places. You see them being used all the time. Now, we’re a destination for more and more students. I see the transformation before my eyes.”
And Cap’s academic rep continues to grow internationally. Last month the school was granted accreditation by an internationally recognized agency, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities — a process that took seven years to complete and taught Cap how to improve as a university. It’s the first school in Canada to earn NWCCU’s designation.
“Being fully accredited by the NWCCU is a significant advantage for Capilano University, its students, faculty, and staff,” Bulcroft said at the time in a statement. “It demonstrates we are a university that knows what our students learn, and through the clear learning outcomes, we foster the development of transferable, real-world skills. These include critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and community service.”
Plus, it’s probably one of the few universities in the world where you might just get a chance to sit down with the university’s leader to have an engaging discussion over a dish of Tater Tot casserole.