Welcome to the Weblog
January 30, 2012
By way of introduction, I’d like to pose and address a few questions:
What is this?
A periodically updated collection of reflections, snippets, comments, and notes.
Most of the entries will address issues affecting the University of Toronto, higher education in general, research and innovation in Canada, or cities (especially the Toronto conurbation).
Some posts will be telegraphic — little more than a ‘Tweet’ to reflect on a meeting or event. Others will be snippets from the academic literature or media that have caught my eye, or comments on announcements or developments affecting our community. Others again may be general observations and reflections from my desk.
This is a challenging time, both economically and socially. Higher education, advanced research and innovation are topics that are garnering lots of public attention. Can’t say that I agree with everything that’s being written, said or done on those issues, and these on-line notes offer a chance to add a different perspective.
As well, several members of our community have kindly suggested that an on-line and informal vehicle of this nature might be welcome reading. Their reasoning varies, but a few themes recur. U of T is huge and decentralized; information percolates slowly and doesn’t always diffuse fully. Brief posts may achieve faster and wider circulation than a long communication that can be hard to read and time-consuming to generate. As well, most of us in administration are running at such a clip that we don’t have spare cycles to pause and explain what we’re chasing, or what’s chasing us. This is a chance to do so.
Who’s writing this stuff?
A slightly cynical but very reasonable question… I expect to get help in generating these notes from a range of people. Tony Gray will be the main ‘accessory after the facts’, Susanne Miskimmin, Bryn MacPherson and other good souls in my office will be pitching in from time to time. I’ll also unabashedly draw on the vice presidents and a range of colleagues, staff, and students. I’ll try to give credit where it’s due. And, unless a post appears over someone else’s by-line, you can assume I’ve written or edited it, and am prepared to wear it.
Will you actually say something?
Another edgy question… I ask it in part as a surrogate for those members of our community who, on occasion, have been startled in conversation to realize that something other than green jello floats between the president’s ears. The question is also worth asking because no member of the teaching staff has less academic freedom than the president.
There is a good reason why the president of U of T is tongue-biter-in-chief. What the president of any institution writes and says can be readily construed as an institutional viewpoint, even an official statement, rather than a personal perspective. Thus the most anodyne statement in this set of on-line notes has the potential to offend a wide range of audiences – an outcome that is obviously counter-productive.
I will indeed write more informally here than is the norm in formal speeches and letters from my office. That much should already be plain. I’ll try as well to express some personal perspectives, rather than relying on the combination of official echoes, travelogues, and institutional cheerleading that make up many bureaucratic university blogs. However, these notes will unapologetically be related to, and appropriately constrained by, my 24/7 responsibilities as president.
How often will the site see updates?
I have no idea. This is something of an experiment. In the worst case, I will invoke Neil Young who once said, when introducing a song, that it ‘starts out slow, then peters out altogether’!
How can we comment?
This is not a blog in one usual sense of the word. Owing in part to pressures on my time and limited interest in offering fodder for flame wars, the medium isn’t set up for on-line comments and responses.
That said, comments and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org are welcome and will be read. I can’t promise any private or public response, again because of time constraints. However, if I receive something particularly timely or compelling, I may paraphrase it and respond, or ask you for permission to post it, with or without a further comment from me.
How will new postings be flagged?
We’ll use social media to get the word out. Stay tuned. And thanks for reading thus far.
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