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David Sylvester named next president of University of St. Michael's College

(photo by Jon Horvatin)

David Sylvester has been appointed the eighth president and vice-chancellor of the University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) in the University of Toronto.

Very Rev. George Terence Smith, C.S.B., superior general of the Congregation of St. Basil, made the appointment on the recommendation of the governing board of the university, the Collegium, following a special meeting held last month.

“I’m very excited to be coming to St. Michael’s,” Sylvester said. “It’s an institution with a storied history and passionate and influential alumni and supporters.

“St. Michael’s has a distinctive identity and position in North American higher education, as both an independent Catholic university and a federated partner of one of the world’s leading public research universities,” he said. “Committed to educating the whole person, St. Michael’s provides an opportunity to teach, research and serve out of a 2,000-year-old living tradition of inquiry and exploration.”

He will follow David Mulroney, who announced his plans to retire last May. Mulroney is serving a three-year term as president that ends in June.

One of Canada’s most experienced leaders in Catholic higher education, Sylvester has served as principal of King’s University College at Western University since 2009, having been renewed for a second term in 2014. At King’s, he led a record-breaking fundraising effort in support of new buildings, programs, and student aid. He also expanded and enhanced academic programming through ambitious hiring and new, dynamic local and international partnerships, and reinvigorated the university’s relationships with its alumni and community supporters.

Before coming to King’s, Sylvester served for a decade as the founding president of Corpus Christi College and as the principal of St. Mark’s College at the University of British Columbia.

“I’ve worked with many members of the USMC community throughout my career as both a university administrator and a scholar,” Sylvester said. “I can’t wait to meet my new colleagues and get to work.”

Father Don McLeod, C.S.B, said that across all institutions Sylvester served, he was known for his strong commitment to answering the needs of students, fulfilling the Catholic mission of the institution, and ensuring it had the financial and operational capacities required to succeed. Sylvester is also recognized as someone who leads through example and through consensus-building and collaboration with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and members of the broader community, McLeod added.

“I have known David Sylvester personally for many years, and in my capacity as the chair of Collegium, I believe I can speak for my colleagues in expressing my great excitement at Dr. Sylvester’s appointment,” McLeod said.

“He has the vision, ambition, and creativity needed to ensure that the University of St. Michael’s College flourishes in the years to come, living out its historic and contemporary mission.”

Sylvester has been appointed professor, teaching stream, in the renowned medieval studies program that USMC sponsors for the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto. A social economic historian, his area of research focuses on the nature of community in the Middle Ages, with a particular interest in how the culture of medieval port towns was shaped by environment related to the activities of shipping, trade, fishing, and piracy. He holds an master’s and a PhD in medieval history from Fordham University in New York City, has taught in the departments of history at UBC, Corpus Christi College and Fordham University, and has been a tenured associate professor in the department of history at King’s since 2009.

He continues to publish on the medieval English urban confederacy known as the Cinque Ports and is a member of the Medieval Academy of America, among other professional associations. He is the current chair of the governance committee of Universities Canada and a member of the boards of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Boston College Institute for Administrators in Catholic Higher Education. He is the past chair of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities of Canada and since 2012 he has been the Canadian elected representative to the board of the 200-member Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities based in Washington, D.C.

He takes up his appointment, for an initial five-year term, on Aug. 1.