York has arrived and the ‘best is yet to come’

The cloudy weather and threat of rain did little to dampen the ceremonial spirit of yesterday’s installation of Mamdouh Shoukri as York’s seventh president & vice-chancellor.

An audience consisting of York faculty, staff, students, alumni and administration mingled happily with dignitaries and guests, everyone enjoying the tradition of the installation ceremony. As Shoukri was officially installed into the position he took up on July 1, he used the occasion to deliver a passionate and eloquent speech, sharing his vision for York’s role as a future innovator for the province, the country and the world.

Left: Professor Brenda Spotton-Visano (left), Chair of the York Senate, and Marshall Cohen, Chair of the Board of Governors, assist President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri with the ceremonial robing

Prior to delivering his remarks, Shoukri received greetings and congratulations from representatives from York’s faculty, staff, students and alumni. He was officially introduced by York President Emerita Lorna R. Marsden. "I welcome you and congratulate you on this day as you assume your official role as York’s seventh president & vice-chancellor," said Marsden.

Speaking to York’s history and the foundation laid by its previous presidents, Marsden praised Shoukri’s qualifications and passion for his new role. She then had a few sage words of advice for York’s new president: "This position is no walk in the park!" chuckled Marsden. "Expectations are enormous. You have the support of all your peers and of the ‘York Presidents Veterans’ Association’ [composed of five living presidents]. We will ensure that nothing goes wrong for fear we may be pressed into service. Congratulations and best wishes to you, Dr. Shoukri."

Greetings and a farewell to Shoukri were given by McMaster University President Peter George, who praised the many accomplishments achieved by Shoukri during his time at McMaster. "York is blessed to have Dr. Shoukri as its new leader," said George. "York’s new president is a man of remarkable talent and character."

Above: Members of the installation platform party applaud York’s new president & vice-chancellor following the official ceremony which involved an oath of office

Representatives from more than 20 Canadian universities attended the installation. Official messages of congratulations were delivered from more than 50 institutions from across Canada. Representatives from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Council of Ontario Universities were also on hand to deliver their congratulations on behalf of their member institutions.

Before beginning the formal portion of his installation address, Egyptian-born Shoukri took the time to “begin where many of these speeches begin – by thanking my parents”. He delivered a special greeting to his father who was watching the ceremony on a computer in Cairo and paid tribute to his parents for being “both clever and wise”.

Shoukri then spoke of York’s strength, describing the University as an academic institution whose time had come. “This is an exciting time to be a part of York University, a time of growth and renewal, a time of transformation,” said Shoukri. “York has really come of age. We now look forward to the future with strong aspirations, knowing that our reputation for excellence is second to none.”

Reaching into York’s history, Shoukri spoke of York’s motto, tentanda via – the way must be tried. Citing the strength and focus of York’s past presidents for forging a path which would allow him to take York into its future, Shoukri thanked them, turning to acknowledge Marsden, York’s sixth president, and President Emeritus H. Ian Macdonald, York’s third president, who was also present at the event. That path, said Shoukri, is based on York’s commitment to delivering an interdisciplinary education which, now well established, provides a foundation for York’s evolution into a comprehensive university with a significant role in the global community.

Left: Shoukri delivers his installation address

“We have a role to play in addressing the challenges facing the world today, challenges like pandemics, climate change, poverty, racism and extremism, to name a few,” he said. “York is playing an increasingly important role in solving these problems. The research that happens here is helping to shape our society and change the way we live. Now, more than ever, the work we do at York matters.

“York has a strong tradition in the humanities and social sciences. What we need to do now is build on this foundation with further growth in science and the applied sciences, an increased focus on research and graduate studies, and the addition of a medical school right here in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area,” said Shoukri. “We need to strike a balance between the social sciences and humanities on one hand, and science and applied science on the other – all underpinned by a strong foundation of research, innovation and a commitment to social responsibility.”

The co-existence between research and teaching means that York students are taught by people who are global leaders in their field, said Shoukri. The continuum formed by research and teaching is strengthened by a commitment to delivering that knowledge into the hands of society. He said that York’s multicultural student body and the University’s strong values, which are rooted in culture, reflect the new Canada – a country committed to diversity, social justice, accessibility and fairness. Quoting Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, Shoukri said, “I have always thought that Bill Clinton got it exactly right when he said: ‘In a world darkened by ethnic conflicts that tear nations apart, Canada stands as a model of how people of different cultures can live and work together in peace, prosperity and mutual respect’.”

The University has travelled a long way and faces some challenges as it heads toward the future, said Shoukri, who outlined his commitment to improving the student experience at York. “We need to make this a place where students not only come to class, but also spend time here at the campus becoming part of the give-and-take of life in the York community.

“York is helping to grow and enhance neighbourhoods where students can socialize, where they can participate in clubs, colleges and student government, and interact with faculty and other students,” said Shoukri. “For as large as York is, it’s also a community of communities, a collection of people with diverse interests and backgrounds who share at least one goal – the pursuit of academic excellence."

Other challenges, said Shoukri, include strengthening York’s ties with its alumni and friends, who have played an important role in shaping the University’s history and have a vital role in its future success. "York has some 200,000 alumni – people all over the world working and excelling in every field. They are an important part of York’s history and they have an important part to play in York’s future. It is their achievements and the generosity of York’s many friends and benefactors, who are demonstrating outstanding support on our $200-million fundraising campaign, that allow us to dream and grow."

With the approaching 50th anniversary in 2009, a milestone in the University’s history, which York’s new president & vice-chancellor described as "50 years of building, striving, growing and achieving", Shoukri asked those present at the ceremony to inform the world of the power and potential of York University. "As close friends of York, you can help us to show the world what York to the Power of 50 is all about," said Shoukri to thunderous applause. "It’s time for us to shout about York from the rooftops, to let the world know that the best is yet to come!"

The event, which took place in York’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall, was steeped in a ritual which dates back 1,000 years to the rise of the University of Bologna. Then, scholars assembled and marched in prescribed dress for the installation of a rector. The ceremony has continued today as the formal observance of the installation of a university president into office.

To view the archived simulcast of the installation ceremony, click here.

Story by Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor.