President delivers year-end message to the community

President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri has issued this message to the York community as the academic year comes to a close:

The balloons and banners have come down, the cake is gone and the candles are put away, but even as we wind down our 50th anniversary, there is still so much to celebrate. I would like to think of us not as 50 years old, but as 50 years young – with many more decades of success and celebrations to look forward to.

Right: President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

This academic year saw some dramatic changes for us on campus. We created a Presidential Task Force on Student Life, Learning & Community to improve the quality of our academics and the student experience. The 13-member task force consulted with all constituencies in the broader York community and reviewed the University’s policies and practices. The final report is an important step in helping us to enhance the student experience at York and to ensure students are able to learn in an environment free from fear and hostility.

Building on this, we assembled an impressive team to help lead the University. On July 1, 2009, we welcomed Patrick Monahan as our new vice-president academic & provost. In January, Jennifer Sloan joined the University as our vice-president university relations. More recently, we appointed Professor Lorne Sossin as dean of Osgoode Hall Law School and Professor Janusz Kozinski as dean of the Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Above: Shoukri with members of the Presidential Task Force on Student Life, Learning & Community. From left, Shoukri, Rob Tiffin, vice-president students; student Aaron Rosen; graduate student James Murayama; Professor Sandra Whitworth; Professor Saeed Rahnema; Professor Marie-Hélène Budworth; students Asma Fatehi and Elena Prager; Professor Paul Delaney; and Patrick Monahan, vice-president academic & provost.

Our campuses are also undergoing a transformation. We are currently renovating four existing academic buildings on the Keele and Glendon campuses, including Osgoode Hall Law School. In addition, at our Keele campus we are building a new $70-million Life Sciences Building. This federally and provincially funded facility will have 160,000 square feet of classroom, laboratory and research space to accommodate our increased enrolment. At the Glendon campus, the Government of Ontario is investing $20 million for a Centre of Excellence for French-Language and Bilingual Postsecondary Education.

Other construction projects currently underway don’t concern bricks and mortar, but rapid transit. At the Northwest Gate of the Keele campus, preliminary work has already begun on the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension. The arrival of the subway will transform York into a commuter hub, connecting us to the city and to York Region. Once the York University station is open, 1,600 buses a day will no longer need to use the Harry W. Arthurs Common – reducing noise and pollution. In the interim, a road will be built through the Common, which will allow buses to avoid the station area once construction begins in 2011.

We are also playing our part to effectively reduce our environmental footprint. I recently received and accepted recommendations contained in the President’s Sustainability Council Report, which I believe will help us become a leader in sustainability, both globally and among Canadian universities. As a start, we have already been awarded a B+ for sustainability by The College Sustainability Report Card, the highest ranking achieved by Canadian universities in a United States-Canada survey.

Right: Shoukri reviews the task force report

Research is at the heart of every great university, and that certainly applies to York. This past year has been stellar in terms of major research support. The Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded York two of its Major Collaborative Research Initiative awards. The York-led research teams will each receive close to $2.5 million to study long-term residential health care and global suburbanization. We were the only institution to win multiple awards in this category. As well, one of York’s Distinguished Research Professors was awarded the prestigious Killam Prize for outstanding career achievement. This $100,000 award is considered one of the most important research prizes in the world.

On a financial note, the University, like everyone else, was not immune to the global economic crisis. However, as a result of our careful and prudent fiscal management, we are steering our way through this volatility – although risks and issues remain, particularly with respect to our pension fund.

We understand that as a university, our priority is to protect the academic complement and the core academic quality of our programs. As such, we have consistently managed our budget conservatively, with the objective of maintaining a balanced position over a multi-year planning period.

This year we had to make some very difficult decisions, recognizing that every budget cut impacts the York community. Given the current economic climate, we cut our budget by 3.5 per cent and, unfortunately, there are still tough choices to be made. But with adversity comes opportunity.

Despite the recent global recession, there is some good economic news to be reported. This month, York officially celebrated the resounding success of our largest fundraising initiative to date – the York to the Power of 50 campaign. Publicly launched in 2006, the goal was to raise $200 million for University priorities, such as scholarships, funding for new chairs, professorships, pioneering research programs, as well as infrastructure improvements.

Left: The president listens to York students during a recent lecture

I am pleased that we exceeded our expectations. With the help from the York University Foundation, together we raised $207 million, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of more than 30,000 donors, many from the York community. During the campaign, we had 44 gifts of $1 million or more. I would like to thank everyone for their goodwill and support. Clearly, this is a testament to the belief in York’s future.

Along with current fiscal requirements, our overall University reputation, while improving, is still not where we’d like it to be. We are working to change that.

First and foremost, the safety of our students and our community is paramount. To best ensure student safety, we solicited the help of a third-party auditor to assess the safety at York. After conducting an open bidding process, the York University Safety Audit Committee named the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children as the auditor; we expect to receive their report shortly. That said, over the past two years we took additional measures and implemented a number of initiatives to enhance safety on our campuses.

Students, families, University employees and community members deserve and expect a safe environment, and we must all work together to create one.

At this point in history, we need to focus on our strengths so that we can become a leading research intensive university in Canada. The recent Senate-endorsed Provostial White Paper will help determine how to accomplish that goal. The white paper is the product of University-wide consultations and support, which have been beneficial for all. I am pleased that we have agreed on some key principles, including the quality of the first-year experience for students.

Right: Shoukri talks with a York student outside Vari Hall

Our colleges will become the prime vehicles for an improved first-year experience; we are looking at more practical learning and education, as well as international study opportunities; and beginning this summer, we are renovating Vari Hall to make it more inviting to students. We are also excited about the new Learning Commons, an innovative student gathering place that will bring together many educational services, including tutoring in research, learning and writing skills.

As part of the white paper, we have also started the process of hiring 60 new tenure-stream faculty, with the first 30 to be hired by July 1, 2011. This is great news for York, for our research efforts and for our students.

As we begin York’s next 50 years, we are moving in the right direction. We are a dynamic university, with great strengths and even greater potential, and I believe we are well-positioned for the future.