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Getting to Know U

Stepping foot on campus again after 37 years is both a return to the past and a challenge for the future

One certainty of taking on a position as visible as the presidency of Canada’s largest university is that you will be asked continuously about the challenges ahead. Fresh from the Oct. 12 installation ceremony, I am still in the honeymoon period where I have time to think about the issues on a grand scale. The main issue we face together is: Can a truly public Canadian university – a university for the people – compete effectively at the top international level?

That question brings up a fundamental problem: Canadian universities are underfunded compared to their international counterparts. Local perceptions seem to be that U of T is rich. However, relative to our peers – the top public universities in the United States, western Europe and Japan – we are woefully underfunded. The new Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program, which will provide funding for 251 faculty positions at U of T, is evidence that the federal government is prepared to take the first steps in helping to make us more competitive globally.

There is remarkable diversity among our students and staff. We now have a marvelous opportunity to enhance our faculty and at the same time make it more diverse, through the CRC program and recruitment linked to faculty retirements and enrollment growth. Over the next six years we could be hiring as many as 1,000 professors. This is an unparalleled opportunity that will require us to search worldwide for the best young educators and scholars.

I believe deeply in the concept of the research university. There is nothing more exciting than being taught by someone who last week, in his or her discipline, may have changed how we think about the world. Great scholarship leads to great teaching, and my experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology taught me that seeking the very best candidates in the world inevitably creates a diverse faculty. Diversity thrives in a meritorious environment.

There is considerable excitement on campus about the university’s new campaign goal. Over the past few years, under the guidance of President Emeritus Robert Prichard and Provost Adel Sedra, U of T has done an extraordinary job in identifying its academic strengths and priorities. In response to the campaign led by Prichard and Jon Dellandrea (vice-president and chief development officer), alumni and friends of the university, as well as faculty, staff and students, have given generously and set a national standard for philanthropy. However, I cannot overemphasize that this is the beginning of the process, not the end, and alumni will be critical to the success of this unprecedented Canadian campaign.

Being a member of the University of Toronto community is a privilege, and in return for this privilege we are obligated to give something back to the community. Indeed, one of the reasons my wife Mary Catherine and I decided to return to our Alma Mater was that we wanted to serve the university that not only helped shape our lives, but actually brought us together – at a freshman dance at St. Michael’s College – on the first day of school. Thirty-seven years, four children and several career moves later, we are tremendously excited to be back in Toronto. I look forward to working with you to help make U of T one of the world’s truly great public universities.

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