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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What university president was a U of T graduate, son of U of T graduates and sibling to six brothers and sisters who also were U of T graduates?

Answer Dr. John Evans was appointed U of T's 9th president in November 1971 and installed in the fall of 1972. Today U of T has more than 360,000 graduates living throughout the world.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

"I don't envy him the job he is taking on"

The presidential appointment of the 42-year-old John Evans was announced publicly towards the end of November 1971. "I don't envy him the job he is taking on," the acting vice-president and provost Don Forster wrote to a friend. "Financial prospects for the next few years are quite bleak and morale at the University is going to be very low."

Jack Sword, John Evans
Acting President Jack Sword congratulates John Evans on the announcement of Evans' presidency on November 23, 1971

Moreover, Evans was "almost an outsider," to use Evans' own words. He knew the medical school well, but not the rest of the university. "I didn't know the power structure," he later said, "the kind of constraints and forces" within the University. Still, the University had been a significant part of his life. He had been a student at the University of Toronto Schools before entering the U of T medical school, both his parents had graduated from U of T - his father had been president of the Victoria College alumni association, and his mother vice-president of the UC alumnae - and all six of his brothers and sisters had attended the University of Toronto.

His experience at McMaster had given him greater respect for the quality of some of the programs at other Ontario universities than was often accorded by Toronto administrators. Even before he took office, he went with Forster and the graduate school dean, Ed Safarian, to a number of other Ontario universities to make Toronto more aware of what was taking place throughout the system and of how Toronto was regarded by other universities. Shortly after the visits, Forster noted their "more than grudging admiration for the quality of some of our programmes," but also their "fear of our size and influence [and] doubt about the recent quality of our 'management' and direction."

The installation took place at the end of September 1972 on the front campus - the first time such an event had taken place out of doors. It was also the first time the proceedings were presided over by a woman - Chancellor Pauline McGibbon, a Victoria College graduate of 1933, who would later become lieutenant governor of Ontario. Between six and seven thousand people attended the ceremony, under a clear sky.

To no one's surprise, there were minor disruptions and a large number of placards - in favour of "free day care" and "access to library stacks," and against "racism" and "repression of women." At one point, graduate student Tony Leah sprinted past the guards and onto the platform and handed Evans a subpoena to appear at a trial the following week in connection with the day-care controversy.

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