The video about her appointment as the first woman and openly queer president-elect of Dalhousie University features Dr. Kim Brooks musing about surfing and dressed in a sharp, western-style shirt that evokes scenes from the famed lesbian film Desert Hearts (1986).

“I’m not very good at it,” says Brooks about her aptitude for catching waves. “But you… look for that perfect one that is filled with potential and opportunity. And when it comes, you pop up on your board and it is the most extraordinary feeling. And that’s what it’s like for me to work at [Dalhousie] every day. And I’m excited to serve as the next president. It does not get better than this.”

Born in Saskatoon in 1973 and raised in Ontario, Brooks is the ebullient daughter of a law professor and an elementary school gym teacher. A previous dean of both the Dalhousie Schulich School of Law and the Faculty of Management, she will begin her five-year post as the institution’s 13th president and vice-chancellor on Aug. 14.

“I’ve known Kim since she first started teaching law, some years ago,” said Constance Backhouse, a distinguished professor of law at the University of Ottawa. “We have organized and participated in feminist legal workshops together.”

She continued: “Dalhousie is widely recognized as a university with a measurably significant past and a brilliant future ahead. As an incoming president, Kim Brooks has a remarkable ability to combine innovative vision with extraordinary people skills — attributes that are all too rarely found together in the same person.”

YouTube video

Brooks’ historic ascent comes after a revolving door of presidents at the flagship university in Nova Scotia, founded in 1818. In recent years, male leaders have departed amid scandals involving alleged misogynist treatment of female students at the Dal Dental school and the use of blackface on campus.

Then a professor at the School of Law, Brooks was among the Dal faculty who, in 2019, protested the practice in which white minstrel show-era performers demeaned Blacks through the garish smearing of burnt cork, greasepaint, or shoe polish on their faces.

“When messages from members of senior administration suggest that ‘reasonable people differ’ in their approach to issues like the wearing of blackface … it erodes confidence that the university as an institution supports an inclusive environment,” Brooks noted in media reports at the time.

Installed in January 2020, Dalhousie’s last president, Deep Saini, left this past December with two years remaining on his contract, after assuming the presidency at McGill. Brooks replaces acting president Frank Harvey.  

Brooks is mindful of the myriad problems that today confront top brass in the academy. For example, Claudine Gay, the first Black woman president of Harvard University, assumed office on July 1, 48 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in college admissions.

Vianne Timmons, the former president of Memorial University, was recently relieved of her position after an investigation of her professed Mi’kmaq lineage revealed “inconsistencies.”  And earlier this week, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the Ontario-born president of Stanford University, announced his forthcoming resignation after “serious flaws” were found in his published research. 

About the issues of race, gender, equity, inclusion, sexuality, fair wages, student housing, and transparency that university presidents are compelled to address, Brooks told me: “People’s work lives, in all occupations, have become increasingly more complex. We see it more in public leadership jobs because the positions are more public.”

She continued: “I’m not foolish. But having been at Dal for 13 years, I believe that I’ve developed solid relationships with faculty, staff, and students that will enable me to move forward in productive ways should unexpected surprises arise.”

Noting the importance of diversity in campus leadership, she emphasized the need for sustained and persistent outreach to women and historically marginalized groups who can bring different perspectives and problem-solving skills to their jobs.

“We get more thoughtful, creative, and insightful decisions when there are a multiplicity of voices at the table,” she said, cautioning against the tendency of some white academic administrators to relinquish the “heaviest burdens” to newly appointed people of colour.

She cited the widely publicized 2018 Report on Lord Dalhousie’s History on Slavery and Race as an example of the “amazing work” that a diverse coterie of scholars delivered to the betterment of the entire Dal community.

“I attended many of the public presentations about the report and continue to be moved by the honesty, energy, and effort that is reflected therein,” she said, adding that Dal is dedicated to improved race relations on campus and beyond.

Halifax scholar Françoise Baylis served on the slavery and race panel.

“Kim is an exceptionally gifted and visionary administrator,” said the distinguished Dal research professor emerita. “I trust the Dalhousie community understands that she is a treasure and actively supports her in her efforts to embrace and promote excellence in pursuit of the common good.”

The parent of two sons with her partner, Dal Law professor Elaine Craig, Brooks said she enjoys cooking “elaborate” meals (i.e., soup dumplings), hiking, drinking coffee, and “sourcing” great cinnamon buns.

Reflecting on her youth, Brooks revels in memories of cavorting with her parents and sister to Bruce Springsteen music “cranked up really loud.”

“We’d jump from couch to couch, all four of us, while belting out ‘Hungry Heart,’” she said. “It was such a joyful thing.”

“I think a lot about his song ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’ and its message of bringing everyone together,” she continued. “To this day, it still makes me cry.”

Evelyn C. White is the author of Alice Walker: A Life.

Evelyn C. White is a journalist and author whose books include Chain, Chain, Change: For Black Women in Abusive Relationships (Seal Press, 1985,) The Black Women’s Health Book: Speaking for Ourselves...

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Should the headline be “the selection committee selects the BEST PERSON for
    the position of President of Dalhousie University”. Kim Brooks, I think you will be bring a perspective to the position not seen previously and so long overdue, therefore be quite successful, good luck/bonne chance.