“Town and gown” is a catchy phrase that describes the perceived gap that separates a university from its community. The relationship is often complex, and occasionally fractious: the off-and-on tension between Cambridge University and its townspeople has been called the 700 Years’ War.
At the University of Toronto we save our gowns for graduation day. The rest of the year we work in the real world, contributing directly to our community. With its extraordinary array of world-renowned thinkers, scholarly programs and institutes, the university has the talent and the passion to reach out and constructively address compelling issues and problems at home and in other parts of the world.
Over the past year, it has been hard to turn on the CBC news and not see Janice Stein, director of the Munk Centre for International Studies, interpreting the latest Middle East conflict. The public is less aware of Professor Stein’s involvement behind the scenes, as foreign-policy adviser to both the U.S. and Canadian governments. Her experience in international conflict and negotiation makes her a role model in bringing the fruits of scholarship into the policy arena, as well as the classroom, where she also teaches U of T undergraduates in one of our most popular first-year courses.
When Roger Martin is not building Canada’s best business school, the dean of the Rotman School of Management also serves as chair of the Ontario Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress. With senior representatives from business and academia, the task force is finding new ways to monitor and strengthen Ontario’s competitiveness.
Of course, U of T scholars contribute on a local level, too. At Innis College, the interdisciplinary urban studies program is improving the quality of life in Toronto. As well as encouraging students to examine such controversial sites as the city’s port lands and the Jane-Finch Mall, the program has brought together experts from academia, business and government to explore solutions to our many urban problems.
The same can be said for our students and staff. Our student governments and staff have long supported the city’s food banks and collected clothing for the homeless. Among many initiatives, St. George students tutor and mentor students in “inner city” high schools through the Faculty of Arts and Science, and University of Toronto at Mississauga students promote community service through their Annual Volunteer and Involvement Fair.
Every day, the University of Toronto’s role in the community becomes more relevant, not less. Our Faculty of Medicine has a proud record of research and clinical care that has transformed human health. Our scientists are making major contributions in research, from fundamental discoveries to the creation of patents and the establishment of high-tech businesses. In law, engineering and many other disciplines, we are drawing more and more faculty members from outside academia. Graduates from the Faculty of Music grace orchestras and concert stages around the globe.
The university has an essential role in society. As Provost Shirley Neuman noted recently in her acclaimed Green Papers launching our new round of academic planning, U of T’s social mandate is central to our mission. Indeed, as publicly subsidized institutions, universities are expected to assist in addressing the most pressing cultural, social, economic and policy issues.
This is not only the right thing to do, it is also necessary for any institution that hopes to attract the most talented students, staff and faculty. Nothing can match the educa-tional value of studying and working alongside people who are transforming knowledge, and, in the process, society and the world. U of T is a proud community of just such people.