Thirty years of experience in education paired with a passport that has seen over 30 countries, Dr. Greg Cant assumed the role of Wilkes University’s seventh president on May 26. Cant moved to campus with his wife Angela and their two youngest children Eliza and Jackson.
Cant’s more than 30 years in education consists of academic and administrative experience in the United States and abroad, ranging from being the dean of the Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University, to a professor in Guangdong, China and working in education at the United Kingdom and in his home of Australia.
“I’m excited for the experience and knowledge that Dr. Cant is bringing to Wilkes. With his extensive travel and international experience, it gives me hope and excitement for the future of Wilkes,” said Abby Love, director of international admissions. “We have an opportunity with Dr. Cant’s leadership to really internationalize the campus and give Wilkes students an opportunity to not only experience the world but bring the world to the doorstep of Wilkes.
Learning and teaching across the globe
Three decades ago, Cant began his journey through higher education as a junior faculty member. After being a student in Canada and Australia, the Australia-native went back to his homeland to begin his first academic position.
Cant identified that in higher education there exists a core relationship between a professor and his students, in which a learning environment is created to challenge the students.
“One of the great blessings of being a faculty member is your job is to explore, learn, challenge your own ideas, develop research that pushes the boundary of ideas and then engage students,” said Cant. “I was fortunate from the outset to work with both undergraduate and graduate students, and that core relationship was still the same.”
From a boy down under to the top
Just before the age of 17, Cant’s parents allowed him to travel to Southeast Asia. While there, he celebrated his birthday and discovered his desire to keep traveling.
“When you get the bug of what that meant, I grew up in a very safe and secure and happy environment, and the world is an amazing place. So, part of it was the genuine thrill of exploration. I am not the jump off a mountain kind of dangerous guy, but the idea of learning about people and places, I just love and I learned that early. Part of what drove me from then on was the exploration, the learning, something new and being somewhere different,” said Cant.
The Cants have also traveled to Jamaica and parts of Asia and Europe.
“Everywhere I have been, there are typically remarkable people, and their lives in some ways mirror mine, but in other ways are profoundly different. What I most enjoy, in a sense, is to try and understand their environment and their culture,” shared Cant. “You can learn something interesting wherever you go, and I haven’t really got a pecking order of experience – they have all just been incredible.”
Having grown up in Australia, Cant explained some similarities between his homeland and the U.S., as well as some challenges he endured when adjusting to a different country.
“All of us grow up in families that are different from each other, and Australia has some things that make Americans feel very comfortable,” said Cant.
Language, various cultural norms, food and climate were among the similarities. Certain television shows transcended geographical boundaries as well, as Cant grew up watching Britain, U.S. and Australia-created shows. Despite not knowing popular TV personalities like Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street was well-known while Cant grew up in Australia.
“Often the cultural differences are subtle, but will hit you every so often,” explained Cant. “When we first moved to the U.S., people couldn’t understand what we were saying. Apparently, the accents would be so difficult that I would have to pronounce my name over and over again.”
As for interests of the Cants, they spend a lot of time outside. Being outdoors and playing sports have always been a part of Cant’s life, whether it’s hiking, kayaking, visiting national parks or playing basketball. With his dad being a “basketballer,” Cant began playing at the age of 14.
“I always loved basketball and played season after season until I got into administration,” said Cant. “We would always find a way to be in nature. When I was younger, we would camp. I had a lot of family holidays going tenting in parts of Australia, so I’ve done that with my kids.”
Traveling hasn’t stopped while Cant has raised his own family. All four of his children became world travelers shortly after they were born. For instance, the president’s son was less than six months old when they moved to Scotland, and his daughter was flown from one side of the world to the other at three weeks old.
The Cants have begun to adjust to their new life in Wilkes-Barre. As for the nature-loving bunch, the local hiking trails have been a refreshing fan favorite.
“While the pandemic has certainly made this an unusual time to be joining a new community, we are excited to be making our home in Wilkes-Barre,” said Angela Cant. “We are loving the proximity to nature and great hiking and have been working our way through the take out menus at local restaurants to find a favorite. We are looking forward to better days ahead when we can welcome students, faculty, staff and community members to the president’s house.”
During his travels, the president hasn’t neglected to explore the university he will be governing. The older mansions weathered with character and the gateway that connects multiple facets of campus are two of the features that stand out to the Australian-native and make Wilkes’ campus appealing to the eye.
“We have a gorgeous campus,” shared Cant. “It is still urban, but it also has this beautiful walk-ability. You can walk down the streets here and think, ‘This is actually a gorgeous spot.’ There are folk who have fireplaces in their offices. I joke now that unless an office has a chandelier and a fireplace, it is not really a good office.”
A global mind put to work
Being a well-rounded traveler, Cant is likely to use his background to adjust to Wilkes University, despite the additional challenges a pandemic may impose.
“Whenever you come into an organization, essentially everyone knows each other and you are the new guy, even without the pandemic,” said Cant. “On the upside, people were really excited to have us join, which is tremendous.”
Senior leaders on campus have helped Cant tackle issues related to COVID-19 with remote cabinet meetings. Important decisions have been made in regards to how and when campus will reopen, as well as addressing difficult financial concerns and employment.
“What I have been blessed by is an incredible team,” said Cant. “In some ways, people expect a president to come in and drive a decision or be the final arbiter of something, but essentially these are collective decisions based on their experience. In every case, it has been the wisdom of the group that has allowed us to move forward.”
In May, non-reappointment letters were mailed to faculty members – an example of one of the tough financial decisions. Although Cant did not choose those affected by the letters, he has monitored its development.
“Because of those financial challenges, a hand was forced, and we did give notice to a number – not a substantial number – but a number of tenure track faculty. We are in the process now where those individuals are able to appeal that decision, and they appeal it to me. I will finalize whether there may be an opportunity to reverse that, but it would happen on a modest scale. There isn’t a chance to reverse them all,” explained Cant.
The main question to be taken into consideration is how essential each faculty member is in the area s/he works in. Non-reappointed faculty have been given a substantial amount of time to find other places of employment, and any faculty given those notices are able to continue to work through the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
“It really is a matter that our finances need to be in better shape, but there were literally tears shed by those involved in that decision-making, and our hearts go out to those impacted by it,” said Cant.
Wilkes’ future in a changed landscape
The University plans continue to address financial concerns, as well as respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to those important topics, Cant is looking toward the future.
Despite the fact that graduate programs do not get as much attention, Cant shared that more students are continuing to look into graduate programs. This offers a great potential in the university’s graduate program, both nationally and internationally.
Second, Cant emphasized the residential undergraduate experience.
“What else can we do? What we can do is continue to evolve what we do in preparing young people for a changed world. If there is a reasonable critique of higher-ed for all of us, it is that we are pretty slow at changing. If you think about disciplines, we are stuck in some pretty old-fashioned ways to understand disciplines,” said Cant. “I think we are going to have fun reimaging what the curriculum looks like and tie ourselves into new realities.”
Despite this experience being “shaken-up” for students, Wilkes intends to offer the richest experience possible. Cant cites digital realities, or the increased speed of digital impact, as being a positive of the pandemic.
“More people living and working online are doing new things,” said Cant. “How we buy things and how we interact with each has a digital focus. What are those jobs of the future, what does digital media look like, what do future companies and entrepreneurs look like? We need to keep evolving to get students to prepare for a future that has always been fast moving. What we are doing about preparing you for how to thrive in that environment, and that will include everything from the programs we teach to the ways we connect with people.”
According to Love, one thing is for certain: Cant will make his mark at Wilkes University on an international level.
“I think having the background that Dr. Cant does will really inspire action and bring newfound energy to our staff, students and faculty,” said Love. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with international students and partners around the world and represent Wilkes. With the support of Dr. Cant, I know we will be able to make Wilkes prominent on an international level.”
Although Cant’s name may have been mispronounced on earlier travels to the U.S., his name will become familiar to all those in the Wilkes community.