R. Roy McMurtry installed as York University’s 12th chancellor

Distinguished jurist R. Roy McMurtry was officially installed as the 12th chancellor of York University in a formal ceremony on Friday afternoon. 

McMurtry, 75, is the former chief justice and attorney general of the Province of Ontario, and the former Canadian high commissioner to Great Britain. He succeeds former Canadian Supreme Court justice Peter deCarteret Cory, who has served as York’s 11th chancellor since 2004.

Above: Roy McMurtry, York University’s 12th chancellor (centre) is congratulated by Marshall Cohen, chair of the Board of Governors of York University (left) and by York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (right). Photo by Gary Beechey, BDS Studios.

More than 200 invited guests, VIPs, University faculty, staff, alumni, students and well-wishers watched as McMurtry took the chancellor’s oath which was delivered by Marshall Cohen, chair of the Board of Governors of York University. As part of the installation ceremony, York’s new chancellor received welcome addresses from representatives of all of the University’s constituents including  faculty, staff, alumni and students. York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri and Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, officially welcomed McMurtry to the York family. Representatives from numerous universities, colleges and other postsecondary organizations from around the globe also delivered welcome remarks to McMurtry.

The well-respected jurist and former politician was joined by his wife Ria and his eldest grandchild Lauren McMurtry. Many of McMurtry’s friends and colleagues also attended the ceremony, including Ontario’s former premier Bill Davis, 78, who, as McMurtry noted, was elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1959, the year of the birth of York University.

Left: Chancellor McMurtry delivers his installation address. Photo by Gary Beechey, BDS Studios.

In his installation address, McMurtry thanked his predecessor Peter Cory for his encouragement and, the University for welcoming him to the family.

McMurtry spoke of his long affiliation with the University, which included his visits to York during his time as Ontario’s attorney general and chief justice of Ontario. He also talked of his role as a 1958 graduate from Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto, and of the 1991 honorary doctorate he received from York. He talked of the important role that York played in his late mother’s life. "I shall always be grateful for the welcome and learning experience given by the University to my late mother when she commenced her studies as a widow and graduated as a senior citizen," said McMurtry. "In 1980, she received her BA in history from Atkinson and became a great admirer of her teacher, Professor Irving Abella, who is here this afternoon.

York’s new chancellor said he had long been an admirer of York’s commitment to social justice, equality and accessibility. "As a new member of the York family, I hope to be able to assist and encourage in the education of students who will be meaningfully engaged with their communities in order to strengthen our pursuit of a just society and our social cohesion."

Key among his goals will be to assist York with its outreach program to students, including skills training, mentoring and tutoring. “I believe that universities must give a greater priority to their outreach to broader communities and I believe this outreach will be more effective if it is tied to the universities’ academic mission,” said McMurtry.

In his role as chief justice of Ontario and as part of his recent work as co-chair of a City of Toronto committee, with MPP Alvin Curling, that reviewed the root causes of youth violence in Ontario, McMurtry said he became very aware of the monumental challenges associated with making meaningful recommendations that will mobilize the political will of government. “I have become much more personally aware of the despair and lack of hope shared by many of our young people. These sentiments have their roots in poverty, racism, lack of education and often an absence of positive role models,” said McMurtry.

Above: York’s 12th chancellor receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of his installation address

“I am particularly pleased to be part of York as I know that this outreach has been a priority of the University. In particular, I am thinking of the Westview Partnership that was established in 1992,” he said. “I am told the project operates in 23 schools in the Jane and Finch community and offers programs and activities designed to promote equity in public education and increase access to postsecondary opportunities.”

McMurtry also took note of York’s pivotal role in the Phoenix Mission to Mars and, as part of his installation address, he took the opportunity to wish the Canadian scientific team, led by York Professor James Whiteway, every success in their historic mission.

“I am also very excited by the fact that I will be chancellor for York’s 50th anniversary next year. It certainly will be an important opportunity to educate the world more about York, of York’s dreams and vision to improve society, locally and globally,” said McMurtry.

He concluded his comments by stating that he hopes to be an effective ambassador to York and to assist the University in building bridges to the communities it serves.

As chancellor of York, McMurtry will serve as the honorary or titular head of the University. The chancellor acts as an ambassador for the University, confers degrees and chairs meetings of the University council, which is one of the governing bodies of the University.

The Board of Governors of York University struck a committee in October 2007 to search for a successor to Peter deCarteret Cory. Members of the York community were invited to submit suggestions of individuals for the position.

Click here to view an archived Webcast of Chancellor McMurtry’s installation address.

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor.