This is York’s time to rise, president tells town hall

At 52 years, York is at “the doorstep of becoming a world-class teaching and research institution,” President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri told staff, faculty and students gathered for a University town halPresident & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri addresses the town hall in Accolade East yesterdayl yesterday.

“We have so many things going for us,” said Shoukri. “York has academic strength, people who are willing to work hard, a large population base, land and soon a subway. This is the time for York to rise.”

Left: President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri addresses the town hall in Accolade East yesterday

From the beginning, York has grown at unprecedented rates and will continue to grow, said Shoukri. Early on in its history, there was talk of adding professional programs – education, medicine and engineering – to the liberal arts and science school. Now the time is ripe to expand its engineering school, he said, and transform York into a “comprehensive” educational institution “as our founders envisioned.”

With 55,000 students, 250,000 alumni and a $900 million budget, York is the second largest university in Ontario and the third largest in Canada.

There’s no university in North America this size that does not have an engineering school and a larger science school, Shoukri said. Building an engineering school will be a catalyst for improving York’s academic quality and for economic growth in the region, he predicted. Demand for all engineering programs has risen 30 per cent in the last five years. It was not difficult to get $50 million for an expansion of York’s engineering school and “I can assure you there will be a flood of support coming,” said Shoukri.

People Listening to the president“Even in the middle of a most difficult time, you can turn challenges into opportunities. And most important, they can be done on our own terms,” he said.

Left: Listening to the president

York has a lot to be proud of, said Shoukri. But, like other universities, it faces major challenges, such as funding constraints. York has to make sure it has the revenue to achieve its goals – improving the quality of education, for one – and not spend more than its revenue, he said.  That means “we have to find ways to be more efficient in the way we operate.”

Still, he said, “we cannot continue to be run like a small university while we are the third largest university in the country.”

“For us to continue to succeed,” he said, “there are things we can do better.”

That’s why the University has introduced initiatives such as PRASE (Process Re-Engineering And Service Enhancement) and Better Workplace, he said. A more efficient organization leads to a more engaged, happier and more cohesive workforce, he said, and is key to implementing York’s goals.

Those goals are intensifying research, increasing the academic scope, increasing full-time faculty, enhancing first-year experience, and introducing more experiential learning and international engagement for students.

“I feel blessed to be president at a time when York will reach its potential,” York’s seventh president concluded.

The town hall was streamed live on the president’s web page. Then the president and his executive  An audience member asks the presedent a questionteam – Gary Brewer, vice-president finance & administration; Robert Haché, vice-president research & innovation; Patrick Monahan, vice-president academic & provost; Jennifer Sloan, vice-president university relations; and Robert Tiffin, vice-president students – fielded questions from the audience, by e-mail and on Twitter. The Q&A was moderated by York law Professor Lisa Philipps, director of the York Centre for Public Policy & Law.

Left: An audience member asks a question

They answered queries about PRASE, the importance of international rankings of universities, and defended the cost of parking at York (priced on a cost-recovery basis). They underlined the importance of staying engaged with alumni – York’s best ambassadors – and of enhancing student experience and engagement on campus. They explained the challenges of providing affordable, appealing student residences and outlined improved safety and security measures on and off campus. They talked about successful efforts to counter York’s reputation for broken labour relations and build a positive image of York in the media.

The president promised that the conversation would continue at the Town Hall website.

By Martha Tancock, YFile contributing writer