Nearly 100 years ago, U of T president Robert Falconer emphasized in his installation address the importance of “culture, scholarship and service.” By all accounts it was an impressive and important speech, but, as Martin Friedland reports in The University of Toronto: A History, Falconer was unhappy with one aspect of his inauguration: the reservation of the first six rows of Convocation Hall for dignitaries. The next morning, Falconer (who went on to become U of T’s longest-serving president) wrote to the chairman of the university’s board, declaring that the special treatment of VIPs was inconsistent with his goal of bringing the university closer to the people. “If there is any institution that should not attempt to make class distinction, it is the university,” he wrote.
These notions – of service to the broader community and of a university that treats people equitably – have persisted through U of T’s long history to the present day. Think of the Scholars-at-Risk program, which brings refugee scholars to U of T to teach; mentorship programs in medicine, law and social work for young students who might not otherwise attend university; and the Transitional Year Programme, for adults who do not have the formal educational background to qualify for university admission.
Students, faculty and staff at U of T have always been actively involved in the life of the city (and the province and the country), but perhaps never more so than at present. Departing president Robert Birgeneau said once that he hoped to integrate voluntarism and social service more fully into student life at U of T. His own installation address, in 2000, emphasized “outreach” as one of three themes that would guide his presidency. Judging by the vast number of students and faculty who volunteer throughout the city, the university has developed some very successful outreach programs, indeed.
Also in the autumn issue, journalist John Lorinc looks at a few ways that faculty, in particular, are working to remedy some of Toronto’s most pressing problems. We profile urban designer Robert Freedman (BA 1984 UC, LLB 1987), who aims to make Toronto a more beautiful place to live, and paints a compelling picture of what this city could be like 10, 20 or 50 years from now. The daredevil riders of the U of T mountain biking team, meanwhile, like many casual cyclists, appreciate the use of the city’s network of trails. In an effort to give something back to the city, the team launched an annual trail cleanup day several years ago that has resulted in the removal of an estimated 1,000 kilograms of trash from the Don Valley forest floor.
Two new sections debut in this issue. “Great Gifts” highlights the ways graduates and friends of U of T are contributing to the university. And on a light note, U of T anthropology professor Marcel Danesi presents a brainteaser, describing its history and social context.
The magazine welcomes your comments. Please let us know if there are topics you’d like to read about (or subjects you’re tired of). Tell us about the articles you enjoyed – and those you didn’t. It is my hope that, over the coming issues, you will find plenty in these pages to engage you – even move you – and keep you connected to life at U of T.
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