It truly has been an honour to serve as president and vice-chancellor of York University over the past decade. I did not set out to be a university president – far from it. But as I reflect on my path from engineer to professor to university administrator, it does seem that all the various experiences were in some way preparation for the responsibilities of being president of this special place.
When one is preparing to complete a job like this, there are opportunities for reflection – on the work you have done, the challenges you have faced, the lessons you have learned and the remarkable people you have met along the way. So I find myself looking back not only on the past decade here at York, but also on the decades of dynamic change that higher education has seen while I have been a part of it.
Today, possibly more than ever, universities are urgently needed by society. Over the past quarter-century, the university has become a central player in a world increasingly being driven and shaped by knowledge and information and the growth and sharing of ideas.
Since our founding, York has been known not only for a unique interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research, but also for a commitment to social justice and to bettering our communities. We are proud of this heritage, and rightly so, but this defining feature of York needs to be nourished and protected. It has long been and must continue to be the role of universities to ensure these qualities are cultivated and become pillars of society and of societal progress. And York has a clear role to play in this.
While my hair has definitely become greyer during some of the more challenging moments over the past 10 years, I have been a president who wanted to move York closer to its destiny – a future that has been planned since our first years as a university. Today, thanks to a number of events coming together – the subway, the Markham Centre campus, the opening of campuses in Hyderabad and Costa Rica, a new athletics stadium and a new Student Centre, the continued success of our graduates on the national and international stage, and world-class funding for vision science research (I could go on) – we are closer than ever to achieving the University’s founding vision of academic and research excellence, local and global impact. We are poised to take an even greater role in the Canadian higher education landscape.
When I began my term, I saw a university with so much potential. Today, I am excited about the direction we are headed and the progress we have made. We continue to build on York’s traditional areas of strength – in the humanities, social sciences, fine arts, business and law. But we have also grown in areas that match societal need: health care, engineering, applied science and research. I have no doubt that under the leadership of President-Designate Rhonda Lenton, York will continue to live up to its reputation as Canada’s progressive university – a place with some of the most dedicated, innovative and creative people on the planet, in an environment that supports excellence, innovation and service to society. I know our community of incredible alumni, a key pillar of our success, will continue to engage and amplify our presence and impact in the world. Thank you all for a wonderful 10 years. I can’t wait to see what’s next.