Students Jerry Jien, Katharine Ball and Mohamed Farid Abdel Hadi robe Meric Gertler in the ceremonial regalia of the president as Governing Council Chair Judy Goldring and Chancellor Michael Wilson look on (photo by John Guatto, U of T News)

Meric Gertler launches his term as U of T president

Renowned urban scholar Meric Gertler marked his installation as the University of Toronto’s 16th president November 7 by highlighting three strategies for Canada’s largest university.

In a ceremony that drew on almost two centuries of tradition, Gertler told the crowd of hundreds of students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the community that U of T must leverage its location in a world city, deepen and focus its international partnerships and enrich its undergraduate teaching and learning.

“Our university is a critical piece of social infrastructure,” said Gertler as he outlined the key role the U of T plays in Toronto as well as in the lives of its students, teachers, researchers, staff and neighbours.

Gertler’s installation speech emphasized the significance of the relationship between the University and the city-region which is home to its three campuses. The president made a point of naming and celebrating a number of alumni and students at the ceremony in Convocation Hall for whom the University offered a life-changing opportunity. Gertler also hailed U of T’s hands-on partnerships with community development organizations in downtown Toronto, Scarborough and Mississauga.

“We need to identify our most successful examples of community outreach and partnership, and scale them up to generate more opportunities for our students and faculty, and more benefit to our local partners,” said Gertler, adding U of T will “seek new opportunities to open up our campuses to the city around us, using our physical spaces to convene public discussions of the most pressing and compelling urban issues of the day.”

Gertler also focused on the importance of strengthening international partnerships with other great universities in other major world cities, including São Paulo, Paris, New York and Shanghai.

“It makes sense for us to focus our resources on these international partnerships, allowing us to deepen and develop these relationships to foster not just student mobility and faculty exchanges, but also joint research projects, joint conferences, joint teaching and, yes, perhaps joint degrees,” he said.

Gertler, who served as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science – U of T’s largest and most diverse academic division – since December, 2008, emphasized the importance of the individual experience of students.
Expanding on his strategy for re-examining and perhaps even reinventing undergraduate education, Gertler explained that “the challenges to our traditional role as a knowledge-sharing institution – including the rise of digital technologies and the pressure to produce ‘job-ready’ graduates – demand that we do this.”

This reinvention may include increasing support for the growing interest in entrepreneurial activity among students and providing more opportunities to study in professional programs.

Gertler’s appointment is the result of an international search that began in June of 2012 to find a successor to Professor David Naylor. Judy Goldring, chair of Governing Council, administered the oath of office to Gertler and announced his official installation.

Chancellor Michael Wilson invited speakers to welcome the new president: Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor David C. Onley; The Honourable Reza Moridi, Minister of Research and Innovation; Government of Ontario; President and CEO of The Hospital for Sick Children Mary Jo Haddad, representing the Toronto Academic Health Science Network hospitals; Adrian De Leon, student member of the Governing Council; Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr; Dr. Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University; Lenna Bradburn, president of the University of Toronto Alumni Association; Louis Charpentier, secretary of the Governing Council; and President Emeritus J. Robert S. Prichard.

Gertler concluded his address with a call for increased support for the University.

“There is no escaping the hard truth that we’ll need more support from our government partners, at all levels, if we are to succeed. In particular, we need our public sector partners to recognize – through their funding and their policies – that the University of Toronto plays a unique and differentiated role within Canadian higher education, by virtue of our research-intensiveness, our global standing, and our commitment to access and opportunity for academically-gifted students.”

In the face of the university’s funding constraints, Gertler saluted U of T for ‘defying gravity’ thanks to “the sheer dedication, creativity and commitment of its faculty and staff,” and the “ingenuity, energy and passion of our wonderful students.”

(Read the complete text of the president's installation address.)


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