York to the Power of 50: A new Chair in Education in Jean Augustine’s name

Jean Augustine, Ontario’s first fairness commissioner, celebrated her birthday Sept. 9 with a big party to raise funds for a new Chair in her name – the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment.

Over 500 people, representing the broad diversity of Toronto’s population, attended the brunch event at La Vita Banquet and Conference Centre in Woodbridge, Ont.

Left: Jean Augustine

A teacher and principal who has devoted her life and career to education and community action, Augustine was Canada’s first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons. She was Liberal MP for the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore from 1993 to 2005. She was also a member of York’s Board of Governors from 1991 to 1994. Appointed Ontario’s first fairness commissioner in March, she will ensure newcomers’ credentials are assessed fairly and openly.

The Jean Augustine Chair, in York’s Faculty of Education, will integrate core concerns of teaching and learning with themes relevant to the new urban environment, including issues of family, neighbourhood and individual development.

Augustine emphasized the timeliness of creating the Chair in light of the obstacles faced by many inner city youth. “I believe it’s important for universities and colleges to take some responsibility for the communities of which they’re part,” she said. “York is in a pivotal location, with its proximity to the Jane-Finch area, but all metropolitan areas have similar communities in need of nurturing and broader public involvement.”

Left: Paul Axelrod presents a York varisty jacket to Jean Augustine at the celebration

“The idea of the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment is about all the things that happen in education – inside and outside the classroom,” said Paul Axelrod, dean of York’s Faculty of Education. “I am very proud to be associated with a project that will secure her legacy and extend her influence.”

Mamdouh Shoukri, York president & vice-chancellor, thanked Augustine for her work on the York Board of Governors and her commitment to help establish the new Chair. “York has a profound interest in working together with its surrounding community as demonstrated by its formation, with the Toronto District School Board, of the York-Westview Partnership,” he said. He was referring to an initiative that improves access to the University for students living in the surrounding neighbourhood. “This new Chair will build naturally on that foundation and the expertise of the Faculty of Education in the areas of social justice and diverse urban environments.”

A total of $3 million is required in order to fund the Chair in perpetuity. York has committed $1 million towards this important initiative. The remaining $2 million will come from external donors. Augustine hopes to inspire a groundswell of support for the Chair and raise $500,000 from the community. She believes that this would “send a signal, particularly its youth, that each of us can impact our community – that we can inspire the change we want to see.”

Augustine has also donated a number of historically significant papers and archival materials documenting her time on Parliament Hill. “They make a wonderful addition to our growing archives and York scholars, researchers and the entire community will certainly make excellent use of them,” said Paul Marcus, president and CEO of York University Foundation.  

Among the many York faculty members to attend the brunch were Professors Warren Crichlow, Carl James, Patrick Solomon, Beverly-Jean Daniel and Gervan Fearon. The master of ceremonies was Hamlin Grange, president and co-founder of DiversiPro Inc., a diversity training, coaching and consulting company in Toronto. Entertainment was provided by musician Eddie Bullen and singer/songwriter Liberty Silver.

Donations to the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment supports York to the Power of 50, the largest fundraising campaign in York’s history.