President’s second annual town hall looks at change, challenges and the future

Shoukri (far right) and some members of his executive team respond to questions from the audience

Change is coming and York’s President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri said the University is taking important steps to be prepared. That was the central message delivered at the President’s second annual Town Hall on Tuesday.

Shoukri, together with Vice-President Research & Innovation Robert Haché, Vice-President Finance & Administration Gary Brewer and Vice-President Academic & Provost Patrick Monahan, took centre stage for the interactive dialogue and ensuing question-and-answer session with the University community. Professor Brenda Spotton Visano moderated the Town Hall and presented the questions to the panel.

York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri delivers his opening remarksYork President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri delivers his opening remarks

To start the Town Hall, Shoukri spoke with pride about the University and its new awareness campaign “this is my time”.

“The branding campaign was in response to challenges that we face in the external environment and the need to tell the world the York story and what this university is all about,” he said. Addressing the brand is something that Shoukri said was necessary because it is an important in reflecting the University’s evolution and development.

“The York University of today was not what it was more than 50 years ago, not even what it was 10 years ago, so we wanted our brand to reflect the new York University and the global nature of our students and the institution,” he said. “The statement ‘this is my time’ acknowledges our students’ passion and creativity and their future capacity for changing the world. I am particularly excited about this campaign. We see real students projecting their visions. It is a sign of the institution’s commitment to our students.”

He then delivered a candid summary about changes, challenges and possible stormy waters that are ahead for University in the areas of government relations, the operating budget and safety on campus.

“As you are all aware, we now have a minority government in Ontario, a minority government brings additional challenges in that they have to be strategic and very political in all decision-making processes,” he said.

The provincial government’s recent paper about innovation in postsecondary education has proposed a number of changes that if implemented will affect Ontario’s universities, said Shoukri. Some of the topics tabled in the paper include: increasing the number of three-year programs; year-round use of university facilities by offering three semesters rather than two; expanded credit transfers between institutions including colleges and universities; and increased and expanded opportunities for online learning with a goal to provide more flexibility in delivering course material.

The paper, while being very general in nature, said Shoukri, had some very specific ideas to inform postsecondary education and some associated challenges. “The government has asked each institution to provide an eight-page discussion paper by the end of September that offers the University’s mission, vision and aspirations for the future and the University’s top three priorities.”

He said that he had asked VPs Monahan and Haché to prepare the University’s official submission.

“We are in a fortunate position of having a plan because several years ago we embarked on a massive exercise involving community consultations and discussions, which led to the development of the White Paper and then the University’s Academic Plan, which was approved by Senate,” he said. “So we will be articulating a plan that has been developed through significant consultations and is Senate-approved.”

Turning to budgetary challenges, Shoukri said that the University, under the leadership of Vice-President Brewer, needs to look for ways to bring down its operating costs, noting that while York University was in a better position than many of Ontario’s other universities, challenges still exist. “We need to continue to examine the budget as our costs exceed our revenues and the current model is not sustainable. ,” he said

Shoukri (far right) and some members of his executive team respond to questions from the audience


Shoukri (far right) and some members of his executive team respond to questions from the audience

Using a blunt instrument to cut the budget was not in the University’s best interests; instead the University was looking at other budget models to allocate revenue in a more appropriate way. Proactive measures such as the Process Re-engineering & Service Enhancement (PRASE) initiative continue to make inroads in streamlining and making more effective and efficient use of the University’s business processes. “If we take the time to plan prudently, we can deal with the situation,” he said, highlighting that York’s primary priority was academic excellence and that budget cuts would not affect what the University provides to students.

“I continue to be very concerned about safety on campus, whether problems are real or perceived, one incident is one incident too many,” he said. “York University continues to be committed to building a safe environment for students, staff and faculty. We need to show care and concern for one another.”

Shoukri said that actions such as establishing the President’s Safety Council, investments in cameras, blue telephones, and increased shuttle transportation to the Village community south of the University were bringing benefits. With respect to the METRAC security and safety audit, he noted that of the 101 recommendations in the audit some 70 per cent were either implemented or close to being finalized.

In keeping with the launch of the brand, Shoukri ended with his own vision. “We are on the path to becoming one of the leading institutions in the world. My name is Mamdouh Shoukri, here is my vision: 2025: My work as president has helped York become one of the world’s leading academic institutions,” he says. “This is our time.”

He then turned the Town Hall over to questions, which were supplied from the audience, via Twitter and e-mail. A summary of the some of the question topics and responses follows:

In response to a question about research intensification, Haché said that the University was embarking on widespread community-based consultation to develop a strategic research plan. He noted that the most recent agreement with the University’s Faculty provided enhanced course releases to allow for more research time. His division was also increasing support for faculty applications for multi-institutional research projects.

A question posed about the average entrance average for the Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies brought a response from Monahan. “The overall trend is up,” he said, noting that the Faculty of Science & Engineering had an entrance average of over 80 per cent, and Schulich’s was 91 per cent. “With respect to LA&PS, it is not as strong as we would like but we are making progress.”

From left, Monahan, Haché, Brewer and Shoukri From left, Monahan, Haché, Brewer and Shoukri

Questions about security and sexual assault brought responses from Shoukri and Brewer; both noted that the issues were a reflection of a large-scale societal problem. Shoukri noted that other universities in the Greater Toronto Area were also experiencing problems and the numbers were similar. He highlighted that York’s position as a geographical landmark in the area was part of the problem. Brewer summarized the investments made by the University in cameras, a campus shuttle to The Village and enhanced numbers of security personnel.

Responding to a question about student advising, Monahan highlighted that PRASE project leaders were working on improving advising and that innovations being considered included an online component and different ways to deliver advising to students.

With respect to menu options on campus, Brewer acknowledged that more work needed to be done to increase options. “A strategy is required for food and parking,” he said.

Will the York subway station be branded in York colours? Shoukri noted that he would like to see both the first train entering the station and the station itself wrapped in “York red”.

As the Town Hall drew to a close, Shoukri thanked the capacity crowd and the active Twitterverse for attending the event and invited all who were viewing the event online and in person to continue the conversation on the President’s Town Hall webpage.

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