Okanagan College Regional Dean James Barmby earns PhD at UBC
Among those crossing the stage at UBC’s Okanagan campus Convocation was James Barmby, conferred a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. What the degree does not tell is that Barmby is a highly distinguished educator himself, as Dean of the Shuswap-Revelstoke region of Okanagan College.
With his full-time role with Okanagan College, earning a doctorate and balancing family life, vacations were spent doing research while the demands of having a full-time career were kept in the forefront.
“It was challenging and frustrating at times when I was researching a great many concepts and ideas, and not being sure how or if to use that material, and there were many times I thought of bailing out,” says Barmby. But with a supportive supervisor in Faculty of Education Professor Lynn Bosetti, encouraging wife Moragh and an understanding employer, Barmby found the time and energy to complete his research and degree.
“To be able to make a contribution to the general knowledge of our society is quite exciting, especially when it is knowledge that I hope will be helpful to universities, colleges and governments in their relations with each other,” says Barmby. “Being awarded a PhD in the process is icing on the cake.”
Barmby has staked out a career in higher education for more than 25 years. He began with Alberta Advanced Education in 1986, highlighted by a four-year assignment as special assistant to the deputy minister. In 1994 he stepped into the role of senior writer and planning consultant for the minister, working with senior government officials and consultants to draft the Klein government’s policies for post-secondary education, New Directions for Adult Learning in Alberta. He later began a 13-year relationship with the DeVry Institute of Technology in Calgary, and was director of program delivery at Thompson Rivers University before joining Okanagan College in 2009.
Barmby’s thesis is a critical examination of the post-secondary system in Alberta. Barmby believes universities in general need to do a much better job of demonstrating their value to society.
“Unfortunately, we tend to measure the value of higher education only in economic terms, which I believe is a serious error, for university graduates contribute to society in so many meaningful ways,” says Barmby. “Canada is a country, not simply an economy; we are citizens, not economic units, and we each have a contribution to make, which is why all forms of education, including university education, need to be valued and supported.”
Barmby’s philosophy as an educator is strengthened by his UBC doctoral degree. Education is not a process, a commodity or a credential in Barmby’s opinion.
“Instead, I believe education is a relationship with someone, whether a professor, teacher or mentor, who engages with us in a way that will help bring us closer to realizing our potential. If, at the end of the experience, we haven’t improved upon our ability to think, act and interact, then we really haven’t learned anything.”