An enduring tribute to Avie Bennett

On Friday, Nov. 24, the Student Services Centre at York University’s Keele campus was officially renamed the Bennett Centre for Student Services in honour of Avie Bennett, former chancellor of the University.

Administration, faculty, staff and students from both campuses, along with representatives from the York University Foundation and members of the Bennett family, gathered on the warm November afternoon to pay tribute to York’s chancellor emeritus.

 Above: Chancellor Emeritus Avie Bennett admires the dedication plaque for the
 newly renamed Bennett Centre for Student Services

“We’ve thought long and hard about how we could pay proper tribute to someone who has done so much for York University,” said York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. “How could we forever connect his name with the people he symbolized at York through convocation, our students? And so, naming this building in honour of Avie Bennett, chancellor emeritus of York University, and dedicating it today, is our way of associating his name with this University forever.”

Bennett served two terms as chancellor of the University, from 1998 to 2004, and remains a member of the Board of Directors of the York University Foundation. As chancellor, he presided over 98 convocations. “He personally greeted, applauded and shook hands with over 31,000 new graduates of York University,” said Marsden.

Right: It’s official, even the campus signage has been changed

Bennett was praised by Marsden for his role in advancing the case for a liberal arts education. “You were, from the very start, a spokesperson for the importance of the liberal arts in higher education,” said Marsden. “It is a cause to which you gave a lot of your life and it is very important in the current cultural climate and we greatly appreciate it. Thank you.”

Marsden noted that Bennett was the first chancellor in Ontario to bring together chancellors from other universities to discuss chancellorship and advocacy on behalf of students with a goal of achieving renewed investment in the province’s postsecondary institutions. The chancellors met with provincial and federal politicians and produced a report on support for students which was then used by Ontario universities in their advocacy efforts to advance student support .

Bennett has enriched the cultural community in Canada and has received many awards. “We claim you for our own,” said Marsden, “because you embody the values of York University. You are a proud and accomplished Canadian and that’s something to hoot and holler about. It is a fitting recognition that we honour Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Avie Bennett by dedicating The Bennett Centre for Student Services in his name.”

Left: Avie Bennett (second from the left)is presented with a keepsake photograph of the Bennett Centre for Student Services by York President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden (left), York VP Students Rob Tiffin (holding the photograph) and Haider Nawab (right), York is U student ambassador

The unique features and history of the Bennett Centre for Student Services were outlined by Robert Tiffin, York’s vice-president students. Tiffin recalled that in 1998, when Bennett was appointed chancellor of York University, student services were located in different buildings across York’s Keele campus. “Core student services were spread across campus in a number of different buildings,” said Tiffin. “Students lined up at several counters and quite often had to make several trips. Online services were also in their infancy.”

In 2004, York University implemented its vision of consolidating services for students in one location. “The student services departments were brought together into an integrated, cohesive unit to benefit York students,” said Tiffin. “This ‘students first’ commitment is in line with Dr. Bennett’s vision that for York to be successful it must be student focused.”

Right: Avie Bennett (left) with York is U student ambassador and community outreach director Haider Nawab

Services of importance to students are now clustered together in the Bennett Centre for Student Services and include Student Community & Leadership Development, the Office of the Registrar, the Office of the Vice President Students, Student Financial Services, Admissions & Recruitment, Student Conduct & Dispute Resolution and Student Client Services. In May 2007, York’s Counselling & Development Centre will move into the building.

York students now have one-stop availability of services and enhanced online resources. Students are able to sit down in an office setting and complete all their transactions without having to return or go to another building. Clustering of staff means they can easily get together to discuss issues and participate in cross-training.

“This building utilizes sustainable principles and has a flexible layout that can change to meet future student needs,” said Tiffin. “It offers a welcoming environment for students visiting York for the very first time.

“Dr. Bennett, it is fitting that your vision and dedication to enabling student success should be recognized in this building,” said Tiffin.

Haider Nawab, a student ambassador and community outreach director for York is U, York’s student alumni program, thanked Bennett for his vision and advocacy on behalf of students. “I speak on behalf of the most satisfied people on this campus, the students,” said Nawab. “We often take for granted the infrastructure that supports our success. As a student, I cannot thank the University enough for providing a centralized location for student services.

“The dedication of this building to the University’s chancellor emeritus is something to be celebrated,” said Nawab. “On behalf of students at York University, I thank you for your support and your vision.”

“This is a wonderful day for me,” said Bennett. “The years I spent here were a very wonderful and meaningful time in my life.

“I am deeply honoured about the dedication of this building in my name, York holds a special place in my heart,” said Bennett. “The students are the heart of the University. Their enthusiasm and determination as well as their sense of questioning keeps the rest of us on our toes. That is why I am particularly pleased that the building that will bear my name is a building dedicated to addressing the needs of students from all faculties. Whether the concerns are academic or personal, I like to think that this building is a place where problems get solved. Thank you all.”