The University of Toronto has named Meric Gertler, dean of the university’s Faculty of Arts and Science, as its 16th president after an intensive international search.
Gertler, a well-known urban policy and planning expert, first joined the university in 1983 as an assistant professor in the geography department after earning a PhD at Harvard University.
His appointment will benefit the city just as much as the university, says John Campbell, CEO of Waterfront Toronto, who worked with Gertler and several city organizations to develop a report on the future of Toronto’s creative economy in 2006. “It’s an inspired choice, very fitting choice for the way the world and the city is moving.”
“Gertler is one of the finest economic geographers and urbanists in the world,” said his long-time friend and colleag ue, urbanist Richard Florida. “He is a long-time Torontonian who understands the challenges facing our city as it grows and what makes global cities tick.”
Former colleagues also point to his skill in diplomacy.
“(When we were developing that report) he herded the cats very effectively, which will be a challenge he faces with the university administration,” notes Geoff Cape, executive director of the Evergreen charity.
And as universities face a period of change and difficult decisions, it could be beneficial to “have someone who understands the institution from the inside out,” says Bonnie Patterson, president and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities.
Gertler, who will begin his five-year stint as president later this year, shared his plans with the Star.
Q: How are you going to tackle the fiscal challenges the university faces?
A: It is a challenging time for universities, not just in Ontario but around the world. They are all struggling because the government can’t support them and they’ve been facing very hard times with the global economic downturn. It’s not unique to U of T, but that said, Ontario is a particularly unique environment … it means that we have had to be creative in making ends meet. So private fundraising has been a big part of the story. I will be fully engaged in that.
Q: What are you hoping your legacy as president will be?
A: First, I want to do everything I can to cement U of T’s position among the very best universities around the world. That is so fundamental to our identity and it’s so important to our future, because it enables us to attract the best faculty and students from around the world. It also provides great benefit to the city — we’re a magnet for talent. We also have a very important social responsibility to be accessible as a big urban university. The third thing is to really open up the relationship between U of T and the city region. There are all kinds of interaction already. We just need to tell the world more effectively about all the wonderful partnerships that exist between the university and city government or neighbourhood organizations.
Q: What is your vision for the city?
A: I’m a passionate believer in Toronto. I’ve travelled around the world a lot, and every time I come back here, I think we are so lucky to live in this place. It has this remarkable social diversity and social harmony. Going forward, the biggest challenges are going to be in areas of infrastructure, particularly transportation. It’s pretty obvious that we have underinvested in all forms of transportation structure for a long time, particularly public transit. If there is anything the university could do to inform those debates, I think it would be a great service to the city region.
Q: What advice have you gotten from outgoing president David Naylor?
A: Catch up on your sleep now, before you take the job. The second piece is that there are a lot of people at the institution who can help; don’t barricade yourself in the office