Affirming, Enabling and Ensuring Excellence
Vice President and Principal
University of Toronto Scarborough
November 20, 2015
Many thanks, Gretchen, for your kind words, and to Meric, Cheryl, members of the installation party and the others who contributed to the ceremony. I thank you all for this great honour. Most of all, I thank you for this opportunity.
The University of Toronto Scarborough is one of the most ambitious and rewarding educational and social experiments of which I have ever been a part. I am thrilled to serve as the University of Toronto vice president and principal for this campus.
Distinguished guests, colleagues, members of the SCSU Executive, students, family and friends, thank you very much for being here today.
I am particularly honoured that my wife Phyllis, my brother David, my sisters-in-law Dorothy, Else and Leanne, so many other members of my extended family, and colleagues from other campuses, colleges and universities are in attendance. Some of you travelled quite a distance. I am deeply moved to see you all here.
Welcome to the Toronto Pan American Sports Centre. If you’ve not already checked it out, please do so before you leave. TPASC, as we call it, anchors the northern end of UTSC with outstanding athletic and research facilities--among the very best ever built in Canada--for UTSC students, faculty and staff; Toronto citizens, and some of Canada’s very best athletes, coaches, sports scientists and sports leaders. The building has been designed to enable the highest degree of accessibility. It affords an entire spectrum of opportunity, from ‘puddle to podium,’ as well as teaching and research. You could take out a membership!
The partnership that created TPASC—between the University and the City of Toronto as joint owners, with the Canadian Sports Institute Ontario as major tenant—is another feature that is bringing the world to see us. Elsewhere, outstanding facilities like this are reserved for high performance athletes.
But we were determined to use public investment to benefit the entire community, to give everyone a chance to enjoy outstanding facilities, to learn from the best athletes and coaches, and vice versa.
I should also give a ‘shout out’ to UTSC students, who played a huge role in realizing TPASC by voting themselves a capital levy to contribute to the costs.
The pursuit of excellence, creative partnerships and community engagement is a signature of UTSC, and we are determined to achieve those goals in this vital addition to the campus.
My journey to UTSC is a U of T story that started in Scarborough. My parents moved me to this former township when I was three years old. I went to camp in Highland Creek in the early 1950s on what are now the south campus playing fields, spent my formative years along the bluffs, and cycled and played sports everywhere in Scarborough, learning about people, community institutions and urban form in the process. I saw the suburbs, industrialization and large-lot merchandizing explode east and north, and listened to the adults talk about opportunities and challenges in the new society that they were creating.
One of the threads to those discussions was the importance of education, to provide the children of post-war immigration and the baby boom a much more accessible, relevant, and effective system of public education than had existed previously, and to create forward-looking schools and post-secondary institutions that could strengthen democracy, spur economic growth and provide new community resources.
It was a heady time of ambition and possibility.
Many of my high school classmates eventually got teaching jobs in the new Scarborough schools built to meet the needs of the mushrooming population. My parents, both educators, were party to the discussions that led to the creation of York University and what are UTSC and the University of Toronto Mississauga. They also contributed to new universities in the Caribbean and India. From them, I imbibed the spirit of higher education as an engine of community development, economic growth and cultural creativity.
The most sustaining thread in my journey has been the University of Toronto. I joined the U of T Track Team on the St. George campus when I was in Grade 11 at Malvern Collegiate. On the Malvern teams I played for, we talked about beating Parkdale or Lawrence Park, but at U of T, they talked about beating the world.
My new teammates took me to their classes, their cultural events and their parties and that broadened my horizons too.
Because of my athletic abilities, by the time I reached Grade 13 and contemplated university, I was swamped with offers from some of the very best American universities, including Harvard, Yale and Michigan. But by then, I was so enamoured of U of T that I turned them all down to enrol in U of T. I felt confident I could stay in Canada, compete against the best in the world and forge an exciting career—here. I’ve never regretted it.
U of T has been a constant in my life ever since. As an undergraduate, I studied with extraordinary teachers and classmates, wrote for The Varsity, and became immersed in the issues of public policy, equity and responsibility that have preoccupied me ever since.
While I did other things for a few years after graduation--teaching in India, gaining another degree at the University of Chicago and working for the provincial government--I always kept my locker at Hart House and stayed in touch with people and debates. In 1970, I returned as an instructor, thinking I’d just be there for a few years, but the environment was so infectious that I’ve never left.
From that trajectory, you can see why I feel so much at home at UTSC, and why I feel it’s so important. UTSC continues to fulfill its original promise as an innovative, accessible, research-intensive university, preparing students for productive careers and strengthened citizenship through outstanding programs.
It’s also an anchor institution serving as an important economic, cultural, athletic and transit hub for one of Canada’s fastest growing and most vibrantly diverse regions.
More than ever, UTSC constitutes an integral part of Canada’s leading university.
As I told Meric and the search committee, if they wanted someone to make radical changes, I was not their man.
The campus already has an ambitious strategic plan, developed with widespread consultation, to:
- Lead thinking in traditional areas and develop new areas of scholarship
- Create and share new knowledge in new ways
- Harness the advantages of our local location and global reach
- Enhance learning through experiences on campus and abroad, and to
- Create strong interpersonal connections between the campus and community.
These goals dovetail beautifully with President Gertler’s priorities of city-building, international outreach and revitalized undergraduate education. We have outstanding faculty, staff and students to bring about their realization.
UTSC also has a master plan, approved after extensive consultation as well, to set out a framework for the ongoing redevelopment of the physical campus, including the placement of new academic buildings, housing and student services, street systems and open space, over the next 50 years.
The idea is to guide future growth to ensure that it enhances the capacity for research, teaching and community engagement of the University as well as the economic, cultural, athletic and social life of eastern Toronto.
These are comprehensive, intelligent plans. My overarching priority will be to advance them, in a principled, coordinated way, under the very difficult financial and political circumstances the University faces at the present time.
We are creating new academic programs and strengthening existing ones to meet the emerging needs of the next generation, which in turn means hiring additional faculty and staff, opening new academic buildings, cultural facilities, residences and student life facilities, all in a way that ensures excellence, accessibility and equity.
As we grow, we need to ensure that our investments provide economic stimulus to local businesses and training to under- and unemployed local youth. We must meet Scarborough’s needs, as well as the University’s.
One serious complication—something that has been receiving a great deal of the spotlight recently—is the inadequacy of public transportation in this area of the city/region.. We need better transit for our students, faculty and staff, Centennial College, local hospitals, other employers and institutions, and citizens, to enhance mobility and liveability and attract new investment. It is high on my ‘To Do’ list to work with other Scarborough constituencies and elected and appointed officials to find a solution to this long-standing shortcoming.
I also intend to give priority to the human and environmental health and sustainability of U of T Scarborough.
It goes without saying that we cannot learn, work, parent and contribute to the community if we do not feel welcome, healthy in our embodied selves, free to pursue our interests, and confident that we live in a sustainable environment, with full access to the programs, services and facilities we need to live productive lives.
By making a ‘healthy campus’ a priority, I do not suggest that UTSC has been neglectful of such issues. The creation of TPASC, our Department of Student Affairs’ leadership in mental health awareness, the new Environmental Science and Chemistry Building designed to target LEED Gold Standard—the academic programs designed for today’s world—all demonstrate UTSC’s commitment to healthy living.
In particular, I would like to ensure that every UTSC student graduates with confident knowledge about how to lead a healthy, productive life, including how to undertake physical activity and healthy eating, how to achieve work-life balance and how to contribute to a sustainable environment. We’re all ambitious, but we can’t change the number of hours in a day. What we can change is our own productivity, and sustained health is the key.
How can we ensure a healthy and sustainable campus? It won’t happen just by my saying it. It can only happen in the day-to-day of personal and institutional decisions and relationships.
We’ve begun that discussion in a number of forums and the response has been encouraging. This week we launched a new webpage with six walking and cycling trails that circle or leave from the campus, along with health and safety tips. During the weeks ahead, I will announce a number of other programs to focus and strengthen our efforts.
The third major item on my ‘To Do’ list is to change the narrative about UTSC and Scarborough. To the extent to which this position gives me a platform, I want to bring the awareness of this institution and its surrounding community into alignment with the tremendous strength, vitality, and resourcefulness they demonstrate every day.
Again, others have started this effort, including the faculty, staff and students who represent UTSC so well, many elected and appointed officials, the Scarborough Rotary Clubs who have begun the Scarborough Community Renewal Action Campaign, and the newly created Scarborough Business Association.
I don’t want to focus on the negatives, but Scarborough gets a bad press. For far too long, this vital U of T campus, along with the entire east end of Toronto, has been the butt of jokes and condescension.
What critics miss is the vibrancy of community among both long-established and recent arrivals, the way that despite the challenges, many people have built rich lives and neighborhoods, with amazing restaurants, religious and cultural institutions, exhibitions and performances, and a network of transforming local agencies.
U of T Scarborough is part of that, and it’s invigorating. I hear a story that makes my heart sing every day—about the professors we have, the courses and research they teach and conduct, the coop opportunities we offer in Canada and abroad, the achievements and contributions of UTSC students in so many fields, the partnerships with neighborhood organizations like the Storefront, Taibu, Toronto Zoo and the Rouge National Park, Green Path and the other remarkable programs we conduct for international students …. It goes on and on.
We’re situated in one of the most beautiful parts of Toronto, When I was an adolescent, negative stereotypes of the east end fired my competitive instincts. Today my approach is simply, ‘If you know us, you’ll like us.’ If I was a high school student today, and I wanted to study neuroscience, or international development, or climate change, or migration, or arts and the community, or health, or or or or –UTSC would be high upon my list.
I’m pleased that we’re no longer alone in confronting the condescension about UTSC and Scarborough. President Gertler, Professor Regehr, Mayor John Tory and many others are beginning to realize our contributions of UTSC and importance.
But we need to bring many others onside with a more affirming narrative. I will make that a priority.
UTSC draws an unusually high number of first generation students. Like the other two U of T campuses, we’re heavily racialized. We note both characteristics with pride. We’re part of the real Toronto of today.
Even though I was born in Canada, I can strongly relate to the immigrant experience and centrality of education to the realization of citizenship and career. My mother was the child of immigrants and the very first of her family to attend university, and was only able to do so through the determined generosity of her older siblings. It was life-changing experience, something she never tired of telling us.
My wife Phyllis has a similar story--her family came to Canada as refugees from the economic and political horrors of Eastern Europe, and my nieces and nephews recount similar family narratives from Asia and Africa.
UTSC, along with the other two campuses of the University of Toronto, has always sought to provide the very best education, research and community support, to enable the people of the GTA to realize the full benefits of Canadian citizenship. I commit to ensuring that UTSC campus continues to play that role in the months and years ahead.
Thank you again for the confidence you have shown in me, and for your support. I am thrilled to have this opportunity. Thank you very much.