Opening Remarks, International Relations Society Conference
January 18, 2008
Opening Remarks to the Iternational Relations Society Conference: Canadian Universities on a Shrinking Planet
Good morning Chancellor Graham, faculty, students and guests to the first annual International Relations Society Conference. My name is David Naylor, President of the University of Toronto, and it is my great pleasure to be here this morning, and to discuss the role of Canadian universities on a shrinking planet.
First, I would like to thank the International Relations Society for hosting today’s conference, and especially the Executive Committee and its co-presidents, Tina Park and Colum Grove-White, both third-year International Relations students.
The purpose of the I.R. Society, now celebrating its fifth year, is to create a community for students interested in global affairs, host speaking events with prominent members of the international relations community both within and outside of U of T and to create a community for students interested in global affairs.
Today’s event, which looks to be eminently successful, is further evidence of the central importance of students clubs at U of T. While student groups play a huge role on any campus, it is your presence here that makes our university a manageable place. Thank you for getting involved.
I am here today to address the role of Canadian Universities on a shrinking planet. And it seems to me that there are four great roles that Universities play – and will continue to play – on this increasingly small world of ours.
The first role that a university plays is as a home to researchers working on problems that affect us all.
A great example of this is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which recently won the Nobel Prize [shared with former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore].
While the panel is led by government appointees, its membership body is composed of several hundred academic scientists and researchers from around the world.
Other examples of this nature – problems with international scope – are the future of renewable energy sources, the impact of air travel on the environment, and the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Our own university is home to some fantastic researchers and organizations looking into these questions, including:
- Ted Sargent, Canada Research Chair in Nanotechnology, who is working to create nanotechnology with the potential to make solar energy cheap and allow society its collection on a huge scale.
- David Zingg, who is currently researching the design of “environmentally friendly” aircraft — in particular, designs that might help reduce the production of greenhouse gases.
- And the Centre for Global Health Research, affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, which is dedicated to researching the spread of HIV/AIDS, especially in the world’s poorer countries.
The second role that universities play in an ever-shrinking world is as the springboards for equality of opportunity.
The best societies will be those who provide opportunities for all who want a higher education, and today there is a growing need for countries to make higher education available to all citizens.
Collaboration among universities of different countries is increasingly becoming the norm, and will remain essential as borders continue to become porous and international cooperation becomes the rule rather than the exception.
The third role that university’s play is to encourage the broad betterment of the human condition.
There is a reality in our ever-shrinking world that, even though countries may be more interconnected than they’ve ever been before, there remains a huge and widening gap in wealth and prosperity.
I have heard that there is now a 32-fold difference in the ecological footprint between developed countries and less-developed countries. Even if this difference is overstated a bit, there is still a clear challenge ahead of us on how we can improve the lives of six – or nine – billion people in the years ahead, without destroying the Earth as we know it.
Universities, however, are addressing the coming crisis, through a level of collaboration never before seen in the history of the planet.
The fourth role of universities is to foster cross-cultural understanding.
After Sputnik went up in 1957, there was suddenly a great need for people to understand Eastern European languages. Similarly, after September 11, 2001, there is a great need for people who can speak Near & Middle Eastern languages, and who can understand the countries and cultures of the Islamic world.
Similarly, we need only look to the atrocities of today, in Rwanda and in the Sudan and now, frighteningly, the increasing problems in Kenya. The world needs cross-cultural understanding as much as ever, something that the world’s great universities are specially qualified to foster.
And while it would be wonderful if the Western world had the capacity to solve all these problems with a simple act of will, there is a particular risk of industrialized countries getting involved where they’re not needed, even with the best intentions. Look, for example, at the grave misstep in the case of US involvement in Iraq.
It’s wonderful to see, then, this great group of students here today, dedicated to the investigation of these difficult questions; students who recognize the importance of the challenges that will face their generation, and hoping to learn enough at university so that they might lead the way in the future.
Thank you all for coming today, and for your continued involvement in life outside the classroom at the University of Toronto.
It now gives me great pleasure to introduce the Honourable William C. Graham, Chancellor, Trinity College.
Bill Graham has served Canada as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of National Defence.
From 1995-2002, Mr. Graham served as Chair of the Standing Committee of the House of Commons on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
He was elected founding President of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas. He has also served as Vice Presiddent of the Parliamentary Association of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and on the executive committee of Liberal International.
He is a former student of our University, earning both his Bachelor of Arts and his Bachelor of Laws here.
Last year he elected to serve Trinity College, his alma mater, as its Chancellor, and the university remains extremely proud to have welcomed him back to our community.
Please give a warm welcome to the Honourable William C. Graham.
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