Senior leadership outlines the opportunities and challenges facing the University

On Feb. 27, a capacity crowd comprised of students, faculty and staff from the Keele Campus, filled the Osgoode Hall Moot Courtroom in the Ignat Kaneff Building to take part in the first Community Conversation with York University’s senior leadership. The event was the first in a series planned to provide an update on the University’s priorities, as well as emerging challenges and opportunities that have been identified. The Community Conversation was live streamed to allow for the participation of those unable to attend in person.

The senior leadership team joined York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton for a conversation with community members about the opportunities and challenges facing the University

President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton was joined by Vice-President Academic and Provost Lisa Philipps, Vice-President Finance and Administration Carol McAuley, Vice-President Advancement Jeff O’Hagan and Vice-President Research and Innovation Robert Haché. The 90-minute event, which was moderated by Faculty of Health Professor and Associate Vice-President of Research Rebecca Pillai Riddell, began with a short presentation by Lenton, and was followed by a question-and-answer session with the community.

Event moderator Rebecca Pillai Riddell

“York continues to differentiate itself in the sector by offering students access to a high-quality, research-intensive University committed to the public good,” said Lenton in her opening remarks. She went on to talk about the significant progress that has been made on all seven priorities in the University Academic Plan 2015-2020 while noting that there are, at the same time, serious challenges ahead. After strong applications for the last two years, York is experiencing a nearly five per cent drop in the 2019 applications following the recent labour disruption.

Lenton also discussed various policy changes that have been made by the provincial government, including the cut in tuition fees without any compensatory increase in grants, totaling a loss of revenue for York of more than $60 million over the next two years.  Since the change was announced late in York’s budget cycle, the decision was made to spread the reduction – about 4.5 per cent – evenly across the University with an expectation that the budget will be balanced over the next three years. She highlighted the potential for other future policy changes that could emerge as a result of the upcoming discussions regarding the Strategic Mandate Agreements (SMAs) that each Ontario university has with the provincial government. Advocacy efforts with government are ongoing to articulate the implications of current and possible future policy changes.

Community members listen intently to the presentation

Lenton was nevertheless optimistic about York University’s future.  “Through our strong planning culture, a commitment to strengthening collaboration at York and with our community partners, diversifying our revenue base, continuing to embrace innovation, a streamlining of administrative services, and strategic investments in campus renewal, we can continue to advance our priorities, sustain our values, and realize our vision,” said Lenton.

Following Lenton’s remarks, the community members present at the event and those online were invited to submit questions, which they did with enthusiasm. The senior administrative team addressed a wide-ranging array of topics, including: the need to visualize what cuts would do to the student experience; the importance of well-being and mental health supports and the need to streamline referrals for students needing mental health assistance; faculty input into the next SMA with the government; the importance of transparency, tenure and promotion; research intensification; teaching loads for full- and part-time faculty; and the need for a focused effort to repair and renovate classroom space.

In closing, Lenton thanked the community for its support for the event and the open and respectful dialogue. She reiterated her commitment to transparency and continuing the broad community conversations.

The Keele Campus community conversation was the first of two planned for the winter semester. The second event will take place at the Glendon Campus on Friday, March 22, from 12 until 2 p.m.

To learn more, visit the Community Conversation website at https://conversations.info.yorku.ca/.