Tom Nowers, dean of Student Affairs at UTSC, has retired after twelve years of managing an office that supports the academic and personal success of the university’s students.
Nowers retires at a time when he still feels he is at the top of his game rather than jaded or frustrated. “I want more control of my life […] to recapture some interests I had before,” he says. He still hopes to do some consulting as well as travelling and spending more time with his family.
He also cited a more morbid reason for his retirement. “I have had three people in my life die before sixty, all in high pressure jobs,” he said. With a heavy workload in a job that he cannot scale down, Nowers decided to retire.
Nowers has spent 31 years in student affairs, starting out at Marianopolis College in Montreal where he was the coordinator of Student Services. He was recruited by Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, where he was the first Dean of Student Affairs. “I’ve never had a predecessor,” he said. “I’ve always come to empty offices.” He made the move to UTSC in March 1998.
During his years at McGill, Nowers came across two texts that he says represented his “call to action.” These were Paulo Frere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and the American Council on Education’s “the Student Personnel Point of View.” They “envisioned education as a dialogical series of transactions between parties of mutual respect,” said Nowers.
When Nowers came to UTSC he found a lot lacking. Residences were in bad shape and there were too few staff members in the residence office, accessibility, health and wellness, and career services.
He began to develop not only more focused offices with higher staff numbers, but to build a relationship with students to replace the animosity toward administration.
“Look at the world through the lens of a student [and] not top down,” said Nowers. “Students don’t care who reports to whom. They want something meaningful to them. I tried to integrate service consistent with the needs of students.”
A few years after Nowers came to UTSC, he proposed the idea of the student centre, which opened in 2004. “I would take student government members to other universities […] and let them talk to their fellow leaders. They realized they should expect more […] in their student experience.”
A big conflict has been balancing his work and family. With a home office and inability to see most vacations through to the end, Nowers admits the balance was “out of whack.” In a speech given at a farewell reception held at UTSC, Nowers thanked his family for their support despite his many absences.
While UTSC has its student centre and future Pan Am sports complex, Nowers says the campus needs more. A studio theatre and more performance space are strongly lacking considering the diverse talent.
He also suggests an outdoor soccer and cricket pitch and at least 700 more spaces in residence, and has recommended to administration that space be made – such as an atrium in one of the buildings – to contain all student service offices.
When asked about a few things not many people know about him, Nowers mentioned his love for fine art and painting, photography, and antique boats. He also dropped out of university when neuroscience was not working for him.
“I travelled alone to Europe […] and flew to Nairobi.” He spent 13 months moving through Europe and then West through Africa from Kenya to Abidjan. “It does you well to step out of your comfort zone. You need to find out what your boundaries are and challenge [yourself]. I don’t think you can do that theoretically.”
While he feels he has accomplished a lot over 12 years, Nowers wishes he could have accomplished more. “I wish I [could have developed] residences […] that the only sports field [was] taken up by portables and that we couldn’t get better access to the valley.”
“As students move through one of the steepest learning curves of their lives, it is a time when they experience many challenges,” he said. “I [feel] humbled by the opportunity to serve [them].”