Michael Stevenson is an eminent university, community and educational leader, as well as scholar, whose contributions to York University and to postsecondary education in Canada are both fundamental and numerous.
Stevenson drew on his history with York as vice-president academic affairs and provost from 1993 to 2000 to deliver an eloquent address to graduands of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. York honoured Stevenson with an honorary doctor of laws degree for his remarkable vision and leadership, most notably as author of the 1999 planning document, Strategic Planning for the New Millennium, the premises and priorities of which continue to shape York’s institutional directions and culture today.
Left: Michael Stevenson
“I am deeply touched by the warm welcome back by York University and grateful beyond words for the recognition you have given to me today,” said Stevenson. “You cannot imagine how gratifying it is to be honoured in this way by colleagues who know me warts and all and by an institution that was my academic home for so many years.”
As the former president of Simon Fraser University (SFU), having retired in 2010, Stevenson made profound contributions to the growth of SFU and its development in new directions, as well as to the revitalization of the city of Vancouver. “York has been a uniquely open and inclusive institution. In its origins, it stood out against social exclusions that typified established universities,” he said. “And, true to its origins, York has continued to be a leader in struggles to make our universities truly Canadian rather than mini-replicas of foreign institutions, to break down sexist and racists barriers to the fullest participation in the life of universities and to break down the walls of orthodox claims to a monopoly of knowledge by creating innovative programs of trans-disciplinary research and teaching.”
South African-born Stevenson told grads that his career has owed everything to York’s culture of openness and inclusion. “I came to this university a new Canadian, albeit one who could hide easily behind the colour of my skin and my comfort, despite my accent, in the dominant language,” he said. “I am sure that I would not have enjoyed the same degree of acceptance and opportunity at any other university. I am confident looking at the rich diversity of the graduating class today that all of us have cause to be grateful to York for the openness and inclusion that have made our success possible.”
While at York University, Stevenson said he had an opportunity to experience interdisciplinary scholarship. “I know intimately the advantages of York’s principles of openness and inclusion into exciting curriculum and research, into the production of knowledge itself,” he said. “I am sure that you, my fellow graduates, realize the importance of York’s institutionalized open mindedness in your future careers and success.”
Another defining characteristic of his time at York University for Stevenson is its approach to collegial governance. “This is an ancient principle underlying the academic freedom and autonomy of universities,” he said. “At this university the defense of collegial governance has been uniquely strong despite the tensions is somehow produces.”
York has produced an amazing array of skilled academic leaders who have gone on to lead Canadian universities. “It speaks to the profound impact of a strong system of collegial governance on the incubation of university leaders,” said Stevenson.
“I believe that you will have learned some of the core values of collegiality simply by being students at this University,” he said. “You will have learned that respect for others and respect for difference is fundamental to our well being and community. You will have learned that free speech and free speaking must be protected and that only behaviour that obstructs this freedom should be restricted.”
Stevenson said he owed his success to these and other lessons he learned while at York University.