York breaks new ground

Appoints first Muslim president

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

History was made at York University and Harvard University with the appointment of their university presidents Feb. 6 and 11, respectively.

York University appointed Dr. Mamdouh Shoukri as the institution’s seventh president, making him the first Muslim to be named a permanent head of a Canadian university. Shoukri is currently VP-research and international affairs at McMaster University.

“It’s a significant appointment because of the talent Dr. Shoukri brings to the university,” said Alex Bilyk, director of media relations for York University.

“Everything I’ve heard has been extremely positive,” he added. “Dr. Shoukri is well known as an innovator, researcher and administrator at McMaster University.”

Harvard named Drew Gilpin Faust its 28th president, making her the first female president in Harvard’s 371-year history. Prior to her appointment, Faust was the founding dean for the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

“I hope that my own appointment can be one symbol of an opening of opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago,” Faust said in her speech following the presidential announcement.

“I think it’s a positive reflection on universities that women are seen as eligible for these positions,” said Monda Halpern, an associate history professor at Harvard.

“It’s also a reflection of larger trends in society that women are assuming these positions,” she added.

“But [we] also have to address the great number of women as professors and part-time faculty in universities who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.”

Alison Hearn, an assistant professor of information and media studies at Western, was cautiously optimistic about the appointments.

“It’s a good thing,” Hearn said. “But just because someone is a woman or a Muslim or of an ethnicity doesn’t mean they’ll harbour progressive values.

“The fact that they’re hired doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll bring diversity [to the university].”

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