Friends of the U of T Event Address
September 14, 2005
Remarks by President-designate David Naylor
Friends of the University of Toronto Event
Great Hall, Hart House
September 14, 2005
Madam Chair, Senator, Ministers, Mayors, distinguished representatives of the federal, provincial and municipal governments and courts, colleagues from universities, colleges, health and cultural institutions, members of the University of Toronto community, and friends of higher education…
I must begin by thanking the Chair of our Governing Council, Rose Patten for her extremely generous introduction and her wonderful contributions in leading the University’s governing body.
I am delighted to see so many here this evening who care so much about Ontario’s universities and colleges, and the quality of education that our institutions of higher learning offer the young people of our Province. I am also very grateful to all of you for the warmth of your welcome and the encouragement that you have extended to me during the months leading up to October 1 when I will formally assume the office of President of the University of Toronto. I say formally because for some weeks, I’ve been in transition and working from the President’s Office, and it’s been a terrific learning experience thus far. Needless to say, I expect to be learning continuously for the entire duration of my term.
My gratitude extends to my old friend Vivek Goel, our wonderfully effective Provost, for his excellent work as Acting President since July 1. I also want to acknowledge UofT’s Vice-Presidents and all the members of the senior leadership team who have had to share the burden of responsibility during this transition phase and who have done so with remarkable skill and understanding.
I must extend as well my personal thanks to the Honourable Frank lacobucci. Frank stepped away from his carefully-planned retirement to take the helm at the University of Toronto on an interim basis last year. Frank, you remain a great role model and one of this University’s greatest citizens: thank you for your leadership. I am also delighted that we are joined this evening by two outstanding former presidents of the University of Toronto, Rob Prichard and George Connell.
This week our campus and the many others spread across the Province are back in full swing. It’s a time-honoured ritual. The campus is green and quiet for a few warm weeks of summer, and then remarkably energized by our returning students and, of course, a new generation of first- year students. Those students represent our future hopes. They bring with them the great promise of youth, a precious and renewable resource that those of us in post-secondary education have the great privilege of stewarding for several formative years.
Most in the audience will remember how September felt for each of us as we took our own journeys through the marvelous world of higher education. My own first weeks at the University of Toronto in 1972 were no exception, marked by the usual anxieties, a sense of growing independence, and a tremendous sense of excitement at the opportunities here, not least the chance to form friendships with so many talented students from such diverse backgrounds.
Those magical memories are also framed by an unusual motto. Not, as you might expect, the UofT’s official motto “Velut Arbor Aevo” — “As a Tree with the Passage of Time”. And not the motto of my other alma mater, Oxford University — “Dominus Illuminatio Mea” -“The Lord is My Light”. The words that I learned to recite loudly in those first few weeks formed the time-honoured mantra of Wallace House at Sir Daniel Wilson Residence: “Semper ubi — sub ubi”. For those of you who do not understand mangled Latin, that motto can be translated rather literally as: “Always wear, under wear”. This was truly a motto for better living!
I have been close to the University of Toronto for most of my adult life as a student and faculty member. It is therefore with a sense of humility and privilege that I look ahead to serving U of T as president. Those feelings are amplified by the fact that, among the Canadian family of universities and colleges, our university is an acknowledged leader. Our positive reputation is all the more meaningful because the colleges and universities of this province and country are so strong. Each institution brings unique strengths to a public higher education system that has served our society well. Each time any institution raises the bar, every institution is elevated. In that respect, I believe firmly as President that the University of Toronto must maintain its momentum and its commitment to excellence. To do less would not only dishonour a wonderful institutional legacy. It would deny our students, faculty and staff the kind of pre-eminent institution that they deserve, and it will ultimately undermine the legitimate aspirations of all postsecondary institutions.
Our goals are not dissimilar to those of our partners in our municipalities, boards of trade, teaching hospitals and cultural institutions, many of whom are represented here this evening. We all want to do everything possible to ensure that our Province and its dynamic urban communities thrive in the coming decades; that our dreams become reality.
Canadians are sometimes characterized as understated and modest compared to citizens of more flamboyant nation-states. I do not think, however, that characteristic Canadian humility should prevent us from taking pride not only in our municipalities and province, but also in our excellent public institutions.
In that latter regard, U of T has much to celebrate. The institution that gave the world Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan is today a massive international force in all areas of research. With our key partners in the affiliated hospitals, the University of Toronto family is the largest research entity in Canada, and reputed to be the third largest in research expenditures among all research universities in North America, conducting $3 million of research each and every day of the year.
Our international impact is impressive. More than two-thirds of the Canadian university members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the US National Academy of Sciences come from our scholarly ranks. About 45% of all Canadian Guggenheim Fellows or Fellows of the Royal Society of London, are drawn from U of T. We are representing our nation well internationally.
In fact, in the number of publications cumulated across all fields as indexed by Thomson ISI, we are number 1 among public research universities in North America. Add in the private universities and only Harvard outstrips us.
I could go on about indices of research strength, but on some levels measuring research excellence is straightforward. Tonight I want instead to emphasize how important it is that in the next few years, we rededicate ourselves to teaching and to enhancing the student experience. Our colleagues’ scholarly accomplishments have given the University a global reputation. And that matters a lot. But only by superb teaching and mentorship, and by offering all our students the maximum opportunities for personal growth and a positive experience, can we win something that is ultimately even more important: the abiding respect, affection, and loyalty of the students who give us some of the best years of their lives.
None of our institutional successes could have been achieved without the support of the people of Ontario and Canada through our elected representatives. I am privileged to be entering my new position at a time unmatched in recent decades by the degree of attention and goodwill towards higher education on the part of the governments of Ontario and Canada. In this regard I want to express, on behalf of all the university and college representatives in attendance, as well as the entire U of T community, our collective gratitude to the Premier and all the provincial and federal Ministers for their vision and their investments in higher education.
The night before last, at the annual Arbor Award ceremony, we had a chance to thank the amazing volunteers who give up so much time to help the University in diverse ways. Tonight I also want to pay tribute to the unbelievable generosity of so many private benefactors who have supported the University of Toronto in the last two decades. A colleague once asked me whether I enjoyed fund-raising. The answer is easy: How can anyone not enjoy a chance to discuss a great University with successful people who are public-spirited and big-hearted? To all our donors at all levels, I would say simply that your University deeply appreciates your support and your gifts have had a huge impact.
Let me turn finally to a few reflections on universities and why we’re here. University Professor Ted Chamberlin of our Department of English captured the spirit of the University beautifully in an address to a UofT Convocation in June. He said that at universities, “We tell stories: old stories about evolution and the decline and fall of the Roman empire, about the Big Bang and the Great War, about justice and freedom, supply and demand, economy and efficiency. And we make up new stories. We call the old ones teaching, and the new ones research.”
Those old stories are taught to new generations, the best and the brightest of Canadian society who assemble here year after year at this great institution. And those stories are brought wonderfully to life again and again by our outstanding faculty.
In our knowledge-based age, higher education has never been more important to preserving and advancing our prosperity and our quality of life. This understanding is now shared by our partners in all levels of government, in industry, and in civil society at large. That shared understanding gives me great hope for the future of our province and nation.
In closing, this is truly an exciting time to be president of this outstanding university. I am humbled to be assuming the office occupied by such distinguished predecessors, and energized by the challenge ahead. I look forward to working with everyone here this evening as we together build an even better University of Toronto, and an Ontario-wide system of public universities and colleges that will be the envy of the world.