By Jessica Lovell/Guelph Tribune
The University of Guelph kicked off its 50th-anniversary celebrations on Tuesday afternoon with the surprise announcement of a new president.
Prof. Franco Vaccarino, current principal of the University of Toronto Scarborough, takes over as U of G’s eighth president and vice-chancellor, succeeding president Alastair Summerlee effective Aug. 15. The incoming U of G president is “a remarkable scholar and educator as well as an accomplished administrator,” chair of the university’s board of governors Dick Freeborough said in introducing the future president.
“He clearly has what it takes to lead the university in years to come.”
Vaccarino has a psychology background, with a PhD from McGill University. Among other positions, he has served as chair of U of T’s Department of Psychology and graduate chair of the tri-campus Graduate Department of Psychology.
Speaking in front of a crowd – some of whom had heard rumours of an important announcement, and others who showed up for free cake – Vaccarino thanked the board of governors “for giving me this exciting opportunity and challenge.”
It’s a challenge that Vaccarino expects will be larger in scope than his current role.
But while the role is larger, the organization is somewhat smaller than the one he has called home for many years.
“The University of Toronto is a very big university,” said Vaccarino. “It has three campuses . . . Each of the campuses is a comprehensive university in its own right,” he said when asked what differences he expected to encounter at Guelph.
The U of G is a smaller school. “That is a difference,” he said.
But while the size and complexity are different, “the priorities at the University of Guelph are priorities that many of us look to,” he said.
These include volunteerism and community involvement, priorities highlighted in a 50th anniversary video premiered at the event shortly before Vaccarino was announced as president.
“It’s an amazing place at the level of people and community,” Vaccarino said of the U of G. “Academically, it’s really moving forward from a position of strength.”
In addressing the crowd, Vaccarino repeated a quote from the video from former U of G president Bill Winegard, who said: “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”
“This is so true about people in our personal lives, and it’s so true about institutions,” said Vaccarino.
In the video, Winegard went on to say: “This institution knows where it’s been. It knows its roots, and it’s hung onto those roots and the spirit that goes with them.”
Vaccarino said it is still too early to talk about future directions for the university until he has had the chance to learn more about the school first-hand.
He noted the board of governors had voted to approve his appointment to the role just an hour earlier.
“Right now, job one is really getting to know the current thinking,” he said. “I look forward to hearing and understanding the various perspectives.”
In the coming months, Vaccarino said, Summerlee has invited him to visit the campus to start to get to know the institution.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “I can’t tell you how energized I am.”