Dr. Reg Bibby took some time to look back on his years at uLethbridge as he looks to retire at the end of the year
When did you join the U of L?
I came to the U of L in the fall of 1975 — just eight years after the University had been founded and four years after it had moved to its current site. There was a feeling of "newness" in the air — new buildings, new faculty, new students, lots of people getting to know each other. In the Department of Sociology and many other departments, research was somewhat limited because many new faculty members were busy completing their doctoral dissertations and because a lot of administrative work had to be done to help get the new University up and running. A key early highlight for me? Being interviewed by Barbara Frum on CBC's As It Happens in early 1976, and having Owen Holmes, the U of L's VP Academic, congratulate me on bringing some national publicity to the University. I realized then that one could get the attention of the country from the coulees of southern Alberta.
Were you always interested in surveying Canadians? You’ve looked at and researched many trends over the years, including religion, teenagers, baby boomers and sports. Why are these topics worth surveying the public about?
I've always been curious about what people think and believe, and I concluded early on that the best way to know what people are thinking is to ask them. Surveys are just conversations. Up through the mid-1980s, apart from Gallup, national survey conversations in Canada were fairly rare. We knew relatively little about things like beliefs and values, enjoyment and concerns, expectations and hopes. Consequently, there were many areas to explore. In the 1980s, I expanded the national surveys to include teenagers. Together, spanning the 1970s through now, they provide fascinating trend and intergenerational conversations with thousands of Canadians of all ages.
I've always been curious about what people think and believe, and I concluded early on that the best way to know what people are thinking is to ask them.
Have you found there’s much difference between students when you first started teaching and students today?
What I have always loved about undergraduates is that they are open to new ideas, offer many fresh thoughts and are not overly dogmatic — in sharp contrast to those of us who have been academics for some time! Social media culture has perhaps contributed to students today being a bit more uninhibited about expressing their thoughts and definitely being better equipped to back them up with instant documentation. That said, I personally think little has changed — my students in 1975 would be comfortable in a class with those today, and vice-versa.
Any advice you’d give to a new professor?
Enjoy your teaching, enjoy your research, and realize both will vary from time to time in what they add to your life. Treasure colleagues who you will assemble from many varied places over your career. And don't take yourself and your work and your accomplishments too seriously. In the end, few others will!
What are your future plans, Reg? Will you continue to conduct surveys?
I love ideas, what songwriter and Oxford grad Kris Kristofferson refers to as "pretty thoughts." I will keep on thinking. And I have an arrangement in place with Maru Public Opinion in Toronto that allows me to take ongoing national survey readings that sometimes will include the U.S. and Britain. So, the survey data will keep coming. If I am still on the planet, I would love to carry out a Project Canada national survey in 2025 — providing 50 years of data since my first Project Canada survey in 1975.
I have had a marvelous time at the University of Lethbridge and will forever be grateful for the resources and tranquility the university has brought to my life.