I finally got around to reading Patrick Deane’s installation address as President of McMaster University, which came highly recommended for its defense of the campus as a bastion of values more universal and durable than we usually read about in the morning papers. The whole speech is worth reading. Deane doesn’t just offer ringing endorsements of grand principles, but acknowledges that worthy goals can conflict. But I stopped short after the first sentence — “In 1975 I was an undergraduate at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg” — because it suggests a trend.
Deane is in fact South African. He came to Canada in 1978 as a grad student, the kind we are sometimes told will take “our” fancy education, paid with our tax dollars, and go home. He stayed. So have a growing number of Canadian university presidents who were born far abroad.
I’m most familiar with Amit Chakma from Bangladesh, who is already making an impression as Western’s new president. A few weeks ago Léo Charbonneau wrote about a bunch of others, including Alaa S. Abd-El-Aziz at UPEI, Feridun Hamdullahpur at Waterloo, Mamdouh Shoukri at York and a relative veteran, Indira Samarasekera at the University of Alberta. Lesley Lovett-Doust, at Nipissing, is Scottish. Neil Turok, not quite a university president, is Canada’s most prominent advocate for higher education in his native Africa. One could go on and on.
I mention this for its own inherent interest and because we’ve got some fights coming up in Canada about whether our universities (and, yes, our tax dollars) are supposed to help us function in the world or reinforce our parochialism.