The University of Toronto has been on a remarkable trajectory since its founding in 1827. In that time – not such a long stretch when compared to our counterparts in Paris and Oxford, or even Cambridge, Massachusetts – we’ve grown from a provincial college to one of the world’s top 10 public universities, consistently recognized as a global leader across the humanities, sciences, social sciences and professions.
Along the way, our faculty, staff, students, alumni and affiliated hospitals have left their mark in every field, from the discovery of insulin to the identification of stem cells, from the invention of peacekeeping to the reinvention of literary criticism and the global revolution in artificial intelligence. U of T is the academic anchor of North America’s third-largest and fastest-growing technology hub. And our graduates – a global community of some 640,000 alumni – have earned an outstanding reputation, from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv, from London to Silicon Valley, and pretty much all points in between.
Most importantly, we’re distinguished among our global peers by our distinctive vision of excellence. For us, excellence means inclusive excellence. The University of Toronto is a world leader because we welcome the best and brightest from all backgrounds and every postal code. We are deeply committed to equity and diversity, and determined to provide our students with a top-quality educational experience, with all the tools and supports they need to flourish. We’ve played a prominent role in addressing the historic challenges our society has faced in recent years, including Canada’s response to COVID-19. And we have enormous potential to make even greater contributions in the years to come.
Our next century
U of T has been around for almost 200 years – but really, we’re just getting started. So now, as we prepare to embark on our third century, the U of T community has every reason to look forward with confidence. It’s incredibly exciting to imagine what else we can achieve together, for the good of the city around us, our country and the planet we share with all humanity.
In that spirit, in December 2021, we launched Defy Gravity, a visionary new campaign for the University of Toronto, with two ambitious goals. For the first time ever, we have set our sights on an alumni engagement target – to inspire 225,000 alumni to engage with us as volunteers, mentors, donors, participants, and leaders across a broad range of activities, and to encourage them to contribute their time and talent to the university one million times collectively.
The campaign will also seek to raise $4 billion for the university’s highest priorities. These include scholarships and bursaries to ensure access for all qualified students; new programs to promote equity, diversity and inclusion; interdisciplinary research to break new ground and transform entire fields; incubators and accelerators to drive innovation and train the next generation of entrepreneurs; and new facilities to support top-quality teaching and research for decades to come. Investments in these priorities will support the university’s commitment to inclusive excellence and enable us to find solutions to the critical challenges facing Canada and the world today.
An urgent mission
That’s why we’re launching the Defy Gravity campaign now, at this particular time in history. In the past few years, the climate crisis has grown ever more urgent. Economic and social inequalities have widened. We face a reckoning with systemic racism and injustices against Indigenous peoples. The greatest pandemic in a century is not yet behind us. And now, the invasion of Ukraine reminds us of the devastating human toll of war, and the plight of displaced peoples around the world.
At the same time, society is increasingly divided. The rise of populism, followed by extended periods of isolation during the pandemic, has led to a dramatic erosion of trust, tolerance and civility. Combined with the polarizing effect of social media, people are finding it more challenging than ever to argue with one’s peers without alienating them, and to learn from dissent and disagreement. Instead of building bridges, we are retreating into insular silos with seemingly irreconcilable worldviews.
In the face of all this, the mission of the University of Toronto is more crucial than ever. We’re one of the few research institutions with the breadth and depth of talent required to solve the toughest problems. And, through the global reach of our alumni community, we’ve shown that we can transcend borders as well as disciplines. We can create new knowledge and solutions that make a major difference in the lives of individuals and communities everywhere.
Above all, in fulfilling our unique responsibility as a university, we can foster a deeper understanding of complex issues, bring people together to learn from each other through dialogue, and advance the human condition globally through education, discovery and outreach. Because of our distinctive strengths and values, and with the support of our global community, the University of Toronto has the potential, quite simply, to defy gravity.
The engagement and generosity of our alumni and friends have always been foundational to the university’s success. With your help, through this bold new campaign we can make U of T an even more powerful engine of progress and opportunity. At a time when so many forces are working to pull us down, we’ll show how we can rise together, and lift the world to new heights of justice, creativity and hope, for generations to come.
This issue of University of Toronto Magazine features 22 ways the campaign will enable us to redefine what’s possible for students, researchers – and the world. Readers are invited to enjoy these snapshots – and to join us in realizing the wonderful vision they represent.
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre