Convocation marks a time both of endings and new beginnings. For the thousands of students who will stride across King’s College Circle into Convocation Hall this June, it is a time to take pride in recent accomplishments, reflect on one’s strengths and anticipate a future full of promise.
We can reflect proudly, too, on what our university has accomplished over the past year, particularly in contributing to a very positive Rae Report and advocating its adoption by the Ontario government. The University of Toronto played a leading role in this important examination of the place of universities and colleges in our society. Credit for that must go to the many members of our community, including faculty, students, alumni, governors and donors who answered our call to make their voices heard in support of our university.
These are exciting and challenging times for universities in Ontario. As Bob Rae noted in his comprehensive report, without a major reinvestment in the system, “we risk romancing mediocrity” and “from that embrace only decline will follow.”
Depending largely on decisions made by the provincial government, the decade-long underfunding of Ontario’s universities will either continue – further eroding our ability to be competitive within Canada and globally – or there will be a significant reinvestment that will help our universities compete with their Canadian and global peers. As I write this, we are hopeful that the provincial budget expected in May will begin this essential reinvestment.
I am particularly proud of a landmark decision made recently by the university that I know will position us well for the future. We have reached an agreement with the University of Toronto Faculty Association to end mandatory retirement for faculty and librarians. We are the first university in Ontario to take this step. Our new, flexible approach will enable professors and librarians to continue their important intellectual activities while remaining connected with the university. The agreement will strengthen U of T’s ability to attract and retain senior scholars and thus reinforce our leadership in teaching and research.
One of the most important priorities in Stepping Up, the university’s academic plan, is to enhance the student experience. This year, we embarked on an ambitious program to improve a wide range of services and activities for students on all three campuses. One exciting aspect of this plan is the proposal for a new Varsity Stadium, which will meet the academic needs of the university and go a long way to improve our facilities. Students who graduate this year will see remarkable improvements by the time they return for their fifth reunion in 2010.
What these past several months have shown me above all else is the remarkable resilience of U of T. Its greatness as an institution has been confirmed to me by its capacity to respond to a number of significant challenges, including the Rae Review, the search for a new president, ongoing financial pressures and a call to articulate the role of the university in society.
I end my time in this office with mixed emotions: sad, of course, to be leaving this extraordinary institution, but with a sense of excitement and confidence in our university’s future. Before us are the prospects of a new deal for Ontario’s universities and the start of a new era in U of T’s history, under the skilled leadership of Dr. David Naylor, dean of the Faculty of Medicine. My confidence in Dr. Naylor’s administration is underscored by the knowledge that we can count on the support of our alumni, whose talent and commitment will ensure an even greater place for U of T among the world’s best public teaching and research universities.
Thank you to all for a most rewarding year.