Professor Wisdom Tettey

Inspiring Inclusive Excellence

Professor Wisdom Tettey Vice President and Principal of University of Toronto Scarborough, Feb. 25, 2019.

Chancellor Patten, President Gertler, Provost Regehr, Professor Sass-Kortsak, members of the installation and academic procession, elected representatives, distinguished guests, colleague students, staff, faculty, alumni, neighbours, friends and supporters – good morning and thank you for gracing this occasion with your presence. It is a great honour to have you all here this morning.

I want to thank our Indigenous hosts for allowing us to share this land and for working with us to develop its potentials together. 

Let me use this occasion to also acknowledge my 10 predecessors, three of whom are here today: Professors Joan Foley, Paul Thompson and Bruce Kidd. Their vision and leadership nurtured and elevated UTSC to the reputable institution that it is today and we are all very grateful for their laudable accomplishments.

To my dearly departed parents and my siblings, I owe you an immense debt of gratitude for your constant and invaluable support and love over the years. My sincere thanks also go to my extended family and friends around the world for your kindness and guidance. While some of you are not physically present, I know you are here in spirit. 

My ineffable thanks go to my spouse and partner, Natasha, and to my children (Makafui, Norvisi, and Selasi).

Tash, Kaf, Sisi, Torgbui, thank you for helping to renew, to sustain, and to enrich me every day with your love, encouragement, sacrifices and support.

Bebelette and Chief, I promise to continue working hard to pass your course on how to recognize the difference between work and vacation. 

Dear members of our UTSC community, friends and supporters, let me share with you the origins of my strong affinity to the values of this campus, my deep desire to further the mission of this institution, and my passion for keeping the commitment of UTSC to our host and partner communities.

That story of my journey here is anchored in a framework of inclusive excellence, which I hope will define the very character of this campus, be amply demonstrated in our daily routines, be embraced and proudly acknowledged by all and be sustained beyond my term as principal.

In a lot of ways, my journey to this position is a familiar one to many of you in this audience. You know what it is like to grow up without much, or at least of others who do. You know what it is like to aspire to something and to work hard towards it. You know what it is like to be a traveler or immigrant to new, unfamiliar environments.

You have been enriched by the diverse ideas, peoples and communities that you have encountered on your life’s journey, and can vouch for the excellence that is born of inclusivity and opportunities for all.

My journey resembles yours, although the specifics may differ.

I grew up in Ghana, in a low-income, pluricultural neighbourhood of the national capital, where diversity, marginalization and community converged.

Those beginnings, and the privilege of subsequent experiences around the world, have helped me to see excellence in the midst of deprivation; to see good emerge when communities are motivated by common purpose, mutual commitment to that purpose and belief in one another to accomplish it.

I know first-hand the impact of teachers and mentors who care, as did my elementary school teacher, who facilitated my enrolment in special preparatory classes for the national secondary school entrance examinations when my mother could not afford it.

I embody what it means for community to come together to create access to opportunities and to invest in people in ways that enable excellence to be recognized, nurtured and supported. 

These encounters with, and lessons from, the realities of diversity, community, altruism and the generosity of others, were mediated through my family experience, particularly through my mother, who has had a tremendous influence in shaping the values and principles that inform me as a person, as a citizen and as a servant-leader.

She never had a formal education, but she instilled in my siblings and me an understanding of the value of education as a game-changer, as a path to self-actualization and to mobility that enriches the pool of contributors to the common good.

She is the source of my ingrained belief in, and unbridled commitment to, equality and equity. She inculcated in us the value of selfless duty; the concept of service as a source of innate fulfilment; the indisputable essence of integrity as the bedrock of leadership and service; the importance of using our privileges to create opportunities for others; the capacity of respect, caring and support for others, irrespective of their station in life, to validate our common humanity and to enrich us all.

This is the background that made me find a close affinity with this campus and this university, which share these values with this community, which echoes my own journey in a lot of ways.

It is this commonality of values, purpose and experiences that attracted me to this campus, this institution and this community several months ago.

It is what informs my commitment to inclusive excellence, which is at the heart of my vision for UTSC, a vision that is distilled into four imperatives and related commitments.

These imperatives and commitments, which constitute two sides of the same coin, are:

  1. To advance a culture of leadership that is bold, empathetic, shared, transparent, inclusive and transformational, thereby enabling our collective aspirations.
  2. To promote and support an inclusive, healthy learning and working environment.
  3. To strengthen, grow, and sustain local and global networks and partnerships that advance our mission.
  4. To augment U of T’s global standing through scholarly prominence and exceptional learning in unique areas of established and emerging strength.

These complementary and mutually reinforcing imperatives and commitments are a sine qua non for our success.

They are also strongly aligned with President Gertler’s three priorities of leveraging our location for mutual benefit of our city and our institution, strengthening our international partnerships and reimagining undergraduate education in transformative ways.

Let me address each of the imperatives and commitments in turn, starting with leadership.

Bold, Empathetic, Shared, Transformational and Inclusive (BEST-IT) Leadership is critical to the success of our mission of inclusive excellence.

I, however, do not see leadership as the exclusive preserve of a few. We all have to assume leadership of our shared values and of our commitment to a collective mission, irrespective of our position or the scope of our role within the institution.

In fact, many great transformations have their origins in leadership exhibited by those who do not occupy officially designated leadership roles.

We will, therefore, promote and support a culture of shared leadership where leadership is seen as an honour, a privilege and an opportunity to serve and to make a positive difference. Where inclusive, empathetic and accountable leadership is intentionally fostered. Where creative and innovative leaders are empowered to advance our collective mission and to uphold our values.

We all have leadership roles to play in the everyday life of UTSC, no matter our location within, or our relationship to, the institution — whether as a student who challenges a peer writing racist graffiti on campus or a denigrating online post. As a staff member who thoughtfully and appropriately responds in a snow storm to the needs of our diverse community of individuals with different abilities. As a faculty member who enriches our curriculum with a variety of intellectual perspectives and knowledge systems. Or as someone who makes access to a UTSC education possible for talented students who may otherwise not be able to avail themselves of such an opportunity.

It is this kind of shared leadership that will enable us to realize the second imperative and commitment of promoting and strengthening an inclusive and healthy learning and working environment. 

Genuine embrace of different experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and identities is what will sustain a vibrant intellectual community like ours, where we strive every day to inspire limitless ingenuity, address the pressing issues of our day and generate solutions that are boundless in their impact.

Indeed, the University of Toronto’s standing among an exclusive group of institutions in the world owes a lot to the community of diverse, talented individuals from around the world who work and study here.

We take tremendous pride in our diversity at UTSC, arguably the most diverse community to be found anywhere. But in order to attain and sustain our goal of inclusive excellence, it is imperative that we go beyond diversity and create an environment where every potential and current member of our UTSC family feels a genuine sense of belonging and is given an equitable opportunity to make their best contribution to our academic mission.

Consequently, we will build on initiatives that address systemic and structural biases that impede access to opportunities for participation in the excellent learning and scholarly activities that happen here. That embrace and promote the enriching contributions that come from the diverse backgrounds, ways of knowing, ideas, perspectives and experiences represented in our community. That solidify our commitment to physical and mental health for students, faculty and staff. That intimately embed Indigenization into our academic pursuits and the daily experiences of our campus. And that significantly erode, if not eliminate, the capacity of any one or group to find a safe haven for bigotry, ableism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and other efforts that seek to divide us, discriminate against any individual or community and rob us of the meaningful contributions a diverse and inclusive campus makes to our mission.

We will work together to normalize wellbeing and inclusion as core, foundational characteristics of our campus by weaving them seamlessly into the tapestry of all that we do as an institution. 

I challenge all of us to start by thinking of, and relating to, those who are marginalized or are constrained by existing structures and practices as “equity-deserving groups,” and not “equity-seeking groups” — a concept which, while well-intentioned, perpetuates a perception of these groups as interlopers.

Those on the margins of our community, who feel or are made to feel that they do not belong, deserve equity as a right. They should not be given the burden of seeking it and they should not be made to feel that they get it as a privilege from the generosity of those who have the power to give it, and hence the power to take it back.

As a critically minded, knowledge-creating institution and a learning organization, we can lead the way by changing the rhetoric, the narrative, the language and their unintended negative connotations with the use of empowering, inclusive language.

Now, to the third imperative and commitment of building and sustaining excellent local and global networks and partnerships that make a positive, transformative impact locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

As an institution committed to community building, we will leverage our areas of established and emerging strength to lead and/or partner with others in our region and farther afield to help bring the benefits of the excellent teaching, research and learning that takes place here to others beyond our institutional boundaries.

We are very proud of our numerous partnerships with our local communities, individuals, alumni, civic organizations, businesses, industry, different levels of government and our sister anchor institutions in various sectors, some of which are represented here today.

I am committed to extending our reach to embrace and to bring into the fold of UTSC-supporters many more collaborators who believe in our mission and reflect our commitment to reciprocity, knowledge co-creation and global citizenship.

Through common purpose with those who share our values and support our students, and our scholarly and learning endeavors, we will be cementing our place us as a lead anchor for the socio-economic development of our region, and ipso facto making a meaningful impact on our world at home and around the globe.

Investing in the preceding imperatives and commitments will put us on an unshakable trajectory to the fourth imperative, which is augmenting U of T’s global standing through prominence in research, creative activity and exceptional learning.

I will strongly support our excellent community of students, faculty and staff to position UTSC as an attractive, accessible, research-intensive campus with global reputation in unique areas of academic programming and cutting-edge scholarship — both disciplinary and interdisciplinary.

We will do this, in part, by fostering collaborative learning and scholarship that generate the critical mass of quality and activity necessary to bring us global prominence in areas of established and emerging strength.

We will also vertically integrate scholarship and curriculum to ensure strategic program development that aligns growth of graduate and undergraduate programs with our areas of scholarly strength, and supports our efforts to expand our community of postdoctoral fellows and other highly qualified personnel.

We will continue to pursue transformative learning initiatives, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, that cultivate citizens and leaders with a social conscience, an intercultural and global outlook, and other competencies needed to be versatile and adaptable to the uncertain and disruptive dynamics of the contemporary global political economy.

My vision, by way of these four imperatives and commitments, is to set UTSC apart as a prominent hub of inclusive knowledge production, creativity, innovation and community development that augments U of T’s standing as a global powerhouse of scholarly and teaching excellence and sustains our institution’s global eminence as one extraordinary university with three exceptional campuses.

I am excited about the strategic planning process that is underway to help us entrench these imperatives and commitments into our identity as a campus as we leap forward towards the kind of prominence we aspire to. Based on the passion and enthusiasm with which our leadership team, students, faculty and staff have embraced and taken ownership of the process, I have no doubt that those aspirations will be realized.

I am confident that I can count on all of you to rally around these imperatives and commitments with the passion and conviction necessary to bring our shared vision of inclusive excellence to fruition.

I close with a KiSwahili word, “Imani,” meaning faith or belief, and a Zulu proverb, “Umuntu, ngumuntu, ngabantu," variously translated as, “a person is a person because of other persons” or “it takes a village or a community.”

Let us believe in what we can accomplish together; be there for one another as a community; pool our diverse talents, abilities, ideas, experiences and perspectives for common purpose in the spirit of inclusion, and our success and prominence will know no bounds.

I am humbled by the trust that you have placed in me as principal of this great campus and as vice-president of this remarkable university.

I am grateful for the opportunity and the privilege to serve. I pledge to justify your trust.

Thank you all for your contributions to UTSC’s accomplishments, for your confidence in its unbridled potential to soar even higher, for doing your part to inspire inclusive excellence that benefits all and for the honor of your presence today.

Thank you very much.