On Wednesday July 1, 2015, U of T alumnus David Mulroney began his term as the seventh president and vice-chancellor of St. Michael’s College (SMC). Having worked in the Canadian Foreign Service from 1981–2012, including a four-year period as Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Mulroney hopes to use his experience to foster a sense of cohesion and improve student life on campus.
Being a practicing Catholic and having spent his childhood living near the U of T campus, Mulroney said that he has always felt a strong connection to the SMC community. As a member of St. Basil’s Parish, he had the opportunities to work as an altar server with father John Kelly and to take part in many academic processions, during which he recognized a connection between the church and higher education.
When it came time to attend university, Mulroney attended St. Michael’s College as an English major, where he complemented his studies with various courses in psychology, philosophy, and economics. Outside of the classroom, he took various roles in theatre through his English courses, as well as volunteering on the food line at the Good Shepherd Refuge. With his longstanding connection to the SMC community, Mulroney feels a duty to give back and maintain the identity of St. Michael’s College on campus.
Upon completion of his education, Mulroney joined the Foreign Service in 1981 and spent the majority of his career on assignments in Ottawa and throughout Asia. He became involved in the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, and later became the Deputy Minister of the Afghanistan Task Force to achieve Canadian objectives in the involvement with the help of the armed forces, CIDA, and the Department of Foreign Affairs. In 2009, he took a new position as Canadian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, during a critical time in that country’s rise. During his time in China, Mulroney took on a strong interest in education, promoting Canadian universities to Chinese students as well as analyzing the way Canadian students learn about Asian culture, history, and language.
Mulroney plans to apply this experience in his new role on campus here in Toronto. “In big complicated organizations, there’s a very strong tendency for individual parts of it to want to do their own thing. The danger there is that these components lose track of larger objectives. You need leadership to bring those different component parts into focus so you’re achieving greater objectives,” he told The Varsity. “You have to inspire [people] to create a vision that they see, share and want to follow, and that means personal leadership and very careful listening.” Mulroney hopes that in his term as president, he can work to unite administration in the college to collaborate on greater initiatives.
Plans for St. Michael’s College
Mulroney is determined to focus on the student experience to ensure that the school is fostering a positive, happy, and healthy environment. He hopes to analyze the extent to which SMC is contributing to their mission of being a centre for Catholic intellectual life on campus as well as in the city of Toronto. Further, he is hoping to build stronger relationships with various student groups, particularly with the St. Michael’s College Student Union through regular exchange to get feedback and ideas to improve student life. Mulroney remembers his experience as a student at St. Michael’s College very fondly, and wants to make the campus a welcoming and enjoyable place in which students can reflect and reenergize from the stress of their daily lives.
Speaking to SMC’s Catholic identity, Mulroney believes it is critical to further promote and maintain that aspect of the college. “It is an asset to the University of Toronto [due to] the history of the university which is closely linked to the history of the church,” Mulroney said, highlighting the tradition of Catholic thinkers and writers, and the ways in which Catholicism has shaped popular culture. “[This tradition] needs to be researched, analyzed, and shared with new generations of students. To understand the history of the west involves at least some appreciation of Catholic thought and Catholic culture,” Mulroney said.
Additionally, Mulroney is committed to addressing issues of inclusivity and mental health. He plans to devote attention to campus services such as the campus ministry and counseling services to ensure these services are operating at the highest level.
Regarding some of the more controversial issues surrounding St. Michael’s College, such as the all-female Loretto College residence, Mulroney believes he has an obligation to stay true to Catholic moral teaching with affiliated private institutions like Loretto. Mulroney addressed the need to ensure that the various policies under the residence contract remain clear, and to work with dissatisfied residents to help them find alternative housing if necessary.
In terms of current students, Mulroney supports the philosophy of studying what you enjoy. “It is okay to follow your passion, to study things that interest you and makes you a better person.” He urges students to “stay true to their core values and not feel pressured to make compromises for power, money, or prestige.”
When current students graduate, Mulroney said that he would like to see them to stay connected with the university. He believes that attending university is another step in a life of learning and thinking, and it is important to develop the inclination to learn.
Mulroney is very excited to be back on campus to further contribute to the school. In reflecting upon his new role, he told The Varsity, “For me, it feels like a homecoming because I essentially grew up on this campus. I’ve had a lifelong association with the Basilian fathers, who were very influential in every aspect of my education and great friends to my family and me. So, this opportunity to work with them and to serve them and to serve their students was a call that I simply had to accept.”