The search for a succesor to U of T president David Naylor began this week with the first public consultations hosted at Simcoe Hall and the Arts and Administration Building at UTSC.
Naylor’s term will end December 31, 2013. This summer, a presidential search committee was appointed to set the criteria to guide the search for nominees to replace him.
Term lengths of U of T presidents vary; Robert Prichard served for two five-year terms while Naylor, who started his first term as U of T’s president on October 1, 2005, has completed one five-year term and will completed a second three-year term next year.
The search committee includes administrative and teaching staff, full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and other appointees.
This past week, the committee hosted “listening sessions” on all three campuses, with the Mississauga campus session scheduled Monday for Room 3130 in the William G. Davis Building from 1–3 pm.
The sessions are opportunities for members of the university community to weigh in on the appointment of the university’s most senior-ranking position.
Governing council member David Wilson, chair of the search committee, explained that once all of the listening sessions and consultations have concluded — expected to be by October 5 — the next step involves creating a list of qualities being sought in the new president. The committee will make the list available to the public. The committee then accepts nominations of people who fit the listed requirements.
The committee will also approach qualified candidates who are not nominated by the public. Spencer Stuart, an executive recruitment firm, will help with generate the other list of candidates.
Once all of the nominations are in, Wilson said, the search committee will “review all the candidates and meet with some of them, and then end up making an assessment about who the best candidate is and propose that candidate to Governing Council.”
Wilson explained that the job of the president is also decided in part through the consultation process. “The job description should be updated each time because the world changes. We don’t have a description of the job of the president yet, but we will,” said Wilson. “The consultation process will help us describe the job of the president at this time in the history of the university. The consultation process precedes the detailed final description of the job of the president.”
Matters under consideration include strengths upon which the university should build over the next five to 10 years, the principal challenges that the university will face in that period, the implications of those strengths and challenges for the new president and the key traits the committee should look for in a new president.
The first of the listening sessions was held in Council Chambers at Simcoe Hall on Thursday, the designated event for St. George campus. Members from various areas of the U of T community were in attendance.
WISHLIST FOR NEXT PRESIDENT
Speakers discussed their hopes and expectations about the credentials and background of the next president, as well as some of the issues they expected him or her to confront during their term.
One potential challenge was U of T’s reputation as a research university. Some speakers suggested that U of T needs to rebrand itself as not only an esteemed research institution, but also an excellent teaching institution.
“We need a president who is able to understand the unique dimensions, characteristics and ways of approaching both research and teaching and also be able to see how they link and join together in an institution like the University of Toronto,” said Carol Rolheiser, the director for the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation.
Professor Luc Tremblay from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education pointed out another challenge in regards to research. He said at present, the federal government emphasizes “instant-gratification research,” and that U of T needs to continue to protect the academic freedom central to its reputation as an esteemed research institution.
“I hope that we all agree that academic freedom is a very important core principal to maintain,” said Tremblay. “As a researcher myself, I like to think that I can actually bury myself for five, 10, or 20 years in my lab and come up with some high-impact research knowing that someone is protecting my academic freedom, allowing me to investigate,” he added.
One spirited discussion questioned whether Naylor’s successor should have an academic background. Some felt that narrowing the criteria in this way could be unnecessarily limiting. Professor Shashi Kant of the Faculty of Forestry voiced concerns that choosing a president who was also a tenured professor may lead to rash decision-making without concern for consequences; such a person could make a string of bad decisions knowing that once their term as president is over they have a guaranteed job to go back to, according to Kant.
The popular opinion was that the new president must be an academic to fully understand and properly deal the issues involved.
“I believe that its essential that the new president be an academic; I think the complexities of the educational, governmental, and broader post-secondary environment is such that the individual needs a deep understanding of the academic culture,” said Rolheiser.
Some asked whether the university should seek to specifically hire a woman or visible minority. Some felt U of T lagged behind schools such as McGill, which has won praise for hiring a female president.
But as with the requirement that the next president be an academic, some felt that specifically seeking women or minorities would unnecessarily limit the potential candidates.
Many speakers said they hoped the next president would address the quality of off-campus student life.
Julie Mathien, president of the Huron-Sussex Residents Association, said “the standard of behavior of students is sometimes disturbing to surrounding communities,” singling out communities “where there is a concentration of frat houses.”
“We have students living in situations where there are twelve students to a house,” said Shaun Shepherd, president of the University of Toronto Student’s Union. While Shepherd acknowledged that this was primarily a municipal issue, he says the university has its role: “The Student Housing Office is still actively advertising houses or rooms that aren’t licensed for such conditions.”
Among the speakers there was also some desire to revisit the University of Toronto Act — legislation that defines the composition and powers of the Governing Council and its Executive Committee.
The Act was last amended in 1978, with some suggesting that the next president might address the aging legislation.
“The University of Toronto Act hasn’t been updated in quite some time,” said Shepherd. “There’s been a very strong move towards updating the satellite campuses but not enough time and attention focused towards updating the Governing Council.”
Shepherd also says the UTSU would like to see the University of Toronto Act amended with changes that would lead to more student attendance at the council meetings.
Approximately a dozen speakers contributed to the making of a lengthy list: the new president should be fiscally responsible, avoid cutting programs and departments, be on good terms with neighboring businesses and residence associations, be able to challenge the provincial and federal governments on decisions that negatively affect the university, and deal with slipping admission standards.