I’m struck by how much U of T has changed since I was here as provost some 20 years ago. Dozens of new buildings have sprung up. The student population is larger and more diverse than ever, and the range of academic programs is much broader. The past few years have seen especially rapid change.
One of the highlights of coming back is to see the university starting a new phase in its growth and development. Stepping Up, the university’s academic plan, sets out a vision for the coming years and builds on our commitment to excellence, equity and outreach. It provides the guiding principles by which we will meet our commitment to our students and our community.
U of T boasts a long history of success. The academic plan – much like a corporation’s business plan – clearly articulates our goals over the next several years, and outlines a strategy for achieving them. It identifies key strengths and recommends specific steps for improvement. As the university has grown, so have our aspirations. With Stepping Up, we aim to be a leader among the world’s best public teaching and research universities in the discovery, preservation and sharing of knowledge.
Stepping Up‘s first priority is to enrich the student experience both within and beyond the classroom. U of T offers a world-class academic setting. We want to build on that and provide students with more opportunities to interact with faculty by creating an enhanced learning environment, and investing more in student services. We want students to engage fully in the life of the university – to discover and learn about the academic, social, political and athletic activities that interest them – as a prelude to becoming active members of society.
U of T is Canada’s largest research university. We can offer our undergraduates the chance to work with senior faculty in cutting-edge fields. Imagine the impact on a young student of engaging in research activity with such renowned scholars as nanotechnologist Ted Sargent, Middle East expert Janice Gross Stein or Nobel Prize-winning chemist John C. Polanyi, to name just a few. Such opportunities will surely inspire many of our students to pursue their own graduate work.
Over the next five years U of T will foster more interdisciplinary teaching and research. Many of the most challenging issues facing society – the AIDS crisis, climate change, poverty – require study from a variety of perspectives. U of T’s size and affiliations with institutions around the world are tremendous strengths. They provide opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration that exist in only a few centres worldwide.
Stepping Up emphasizes U of T’s vital role as a public university. Community outreach is central to our mission, but will be given even more prominence with the establishment of a Centre for Community Partnerships. At the provincial and national level, we will seek ways to inform public policy debates. As a public university, we want to be a vibrant and significant part of our city and our community.
Our ability to transform U of T has national implications. A generation of doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers – professionals from every walk of life – is approaching retirement. How well we educate our students to achieve their true potential will fundamentally affect the destiny of our city, our province, our country and, ultimately, the world.
The changes we are making through Stepping Up will be felt by today’s U of T students. Our goal is to complete these changes by the end of the decade – and we have reason to be optimistic. There is a renewed public focus on the importance of postsecondary education, which is most welcome. A significant increase in provincial funding is urgently needed to prevent a decline in the quality of postsecondary education in Ontario and to bring the changes in Stepping Up to life. We are hopeful that the government of Ontario will heed the recommendations of the Rae Review of postsecondary education and restore funding to the province’s universities.
And, as always, the ongoing loyalty of our alumni and friends is a source of great strength.