Saturday, September 23, 2017

Cambridge University to get first non-British Vice Chancellor in 800 years

  • Roving Correspondent, Toronto, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2017-09-12 10:24:34 BdST

bdnews24
Stephen Toope. University of British Columbia

Stephen Toope, currently Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, will become the first non-British Vice Chancellor of the famed Cambridge University in 800 years.

After two years in Munk School, the legal scholar will be installed as vice-chancellor at Cambridge University, according to the Toronto Star newspaper.

He has spent 30 years on the loftiest uplands of Canadian intellectual life.

He will be the 346th person to hold the post since the school’s founding more than 800 years ago. And, Cambridge is his Alma Mater.

The Canadian has been selected as vice-chancellor at a time when Cambridge University has slipped several positions in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

The vice-chancellor is the main administrative and academic officer and de facto head of the university, nominated by the University Council and approved by the school’s Regent House to a non-renewable seven-year term.

Chancellor is a ceremonial post in most universities including Cambridge. 

According to media reports, before choosing him, Cambridge conducted an international search led by Ian White, master of Jesus College.

He said Toope “has impeccable academic credentials, a longstanding involvement with higher education, strong leadership experience and an excellent research background”.

Toope, who earned his doctorate at Cambridge in 1987, said he was not even aware a search was on for a new vice-chancellor at his alma mater when he received a call from headhunters.

“It was really quite . . . stunning,” he said, pausing, uncharacteristically, to search for a word, the Toronto Star reported.

“I was surprised and honoured even to be considered.

"Even so, the timing wasn’t ideal."

“As a West Island boy from Montreal, I feel extraordinarily privileged,” Toope, 59, told the newspaper in an interview as he prepared for the move from Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood to one of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions.

He was only two years into an appointment as director of the Munk School, after eight years running the University of British Columbia, where he landed after serving as dean of law at McGill.

Toope had planned on spending the “next five, 10 years, whatever” at Munk, he said, especially with his wife and three children — now in their 20s and pursuing their own studies — had already suffered uprooting for the sake of his career.

“But,” he said, smiling. “It’s very hard to say no to a place like Cambridge.”

When Toope was named President of UBC in 2006, Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada called him “brilliant, humane, considerate and fearless.”

The UBC, she said, “should be electrified”.

Toope earned an undergraduate degree in literature and history from Harvard University, degrees from McGill in common and civil law while editing the McGill Law Journal, and a PhD from Cambridge.

Earlier, he taught law at McGill, before becoming the faculty’s youngest ever dean at age 34.

As a scholar, Toope has specialised in human rights, international dispute resolution, international environmental law and the use of force.

He has published articles and books on the change in international law and the origins of international obligation.

Last year, for the first time, Cambridge did not feature in the top three in the Times Higher Education University rankings, which started in 2004. In the 2016-17 list out this week, it was placed fourth.

“It means Cambridge has to look at itself and see whether it’s doing as good a job as it can,” the Star quoted him as saying.

Not least of Toope’s challenges will be the ramifications for the university sector — at an institution that draws significant research revenue from the European Union — of Brexit.

There have been concerns about a Brexit brain drain as European academics leave British universities and fears over impacts on funding, enrolment, exchange programmes, teaching quality and research collaboration.

It has been estimated that European students accounted for more than 5 percent of British university enrolment, contributing 3.7 billion pound sterling to the UK economy and providing more than 30,000 jobs.