He received the telephone call in 1962, when he was at New Jersey’s Princeton University, deeply engaged in postdoctoral research. Officials at the University of Sherbrooke, then a fledgling institution in his native Quebec, were looking for a Frenchlanguage lecturer in physical chemistry. Taking note of Aidée Cabana’s doctorate in the field from the University of Montreal, they invited him to apply. “I had a U.S. working visa and had no intention of returning,” he recalled. “But I felt indebted to Quebec for my education. So I decided to return to teach—but just for one year.” Cabana never left. From that first job as a lecturer, he has risen to the position of rector, the university’s top administrative job, a post that he has held since 1985. During his tenure, the university—150 km east of Montreal— has grown dramatically, in both = size and reputation. This year, the 5 student body will exceed 8,800 § full-time and 6,550 part-time students. Equally important has been Sherbrooke’s rise in stature.
“Very early on we realized that we were too small and too removed to be good in everything,” Cabana says. “We decided to specialize in a few select areas.” The result is that Sherbrooke is acquiring an international reputation in basic scientific research, and professors are expected to engage in research in order to achieve tenure and promotions.
In Cabana’s view, Sherbrooke’s limited approach is the best way for any
Canadian university. “Unlike the great U.S. universities, where endow-
ments play a major role, universities in Canada are all financed out of the
same taxpayer’s pot,” he says. “Each institution will, sooner or later, be
forced into a position where there is no alternative but to pick the things
they can do best—and then build on those strengths.” Being selective has
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