Message from the Founding Principal

Message from the Founding Principal

john-labrieTo say that Toronto is an intriguing city is an understatement. In the last several months, as I have been working to establish Northeastern’s newest campus in Canada’s largest city, I’ve had the opportunity to discover the city’s character, energy and excitement. What I have experienced has me more motivated than ever that this is absolutely the right time for both Toronto and Northeastern University.

Almost three years ago, in our search for our next regional campus, Toronto quickly emerged as a strong contender. Months of labour market reports, studies of emerging educational needs and interviews with more than 50 employers led us to conclude that the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) was a great site for our next campus.

Northeastern’s regional campus strategy goes far beyond simply offering academic credentials but also seeks to serve as a platform for Northeastern’s broader strategy of creating a series of networked campuses where faculty, students and the employer community explore a new compact between university learning and employer engagement. Our hallmark experiential learning platform coupled with our interest in global engagement made Toronto an easy choice. The data is compelling, the city is vibrant and the employer community has welcomed us with open arms.

So, in June 2016 I left my role as Dean and Vice President of the College of Professional Studies to launch our newest campus in Canada. After leading several large, well-established academic colleges at two great research universities (one of which was in Vancouver, BC), the prospect of launching a start-up from the ground up was very appealing. I had watched my colleagues in Charlotte, Seattle and Silicon Valley with a fair amount of envy and wonder. How does an academic start-up happen? This was a question I wanted to answer for myself, and so my Toronto journey began.

Academic governance and planning is a complex area of university work that is often unseen by the general public. This is a good thing! Explaining this work to non-academics is a bit like describing a byzantine process—interesting to a few, boring to most. For better or worse, as a college dean, this is the skill set we use daily. Launching a campus—especially one outside the U.S.—requires curiosity and a multi-skilled approach that challenges you intellectually and physically. Almost immediately, issues of Canadianizing the curriculum, real estate, financial planning, harmonizing human resources, employment and student policies all take on a new level of importance. The list of details seems endless.

Most important to me, however, was to ensure that Northeastern is as Canadian as possible. For two countries that are so aligned politically, economically and socially, it is remarkable how different the two cultures are. Canadians are well aware of this difference; Americans, not so much. In fact, there is a dramatic awareness imbalance between the countries. For Northeastern, it is important that we get this cultural issue right, while staying true to our core values of experiential education, global impact and use-inspired research.

Toronto and the citizens of this province have made it easy for me to adjust. The data we first reviewed has come to life before my eyes. North America’s second largest financial hub is so much more than Bay Street. The biotech and medical research industries in the GTA are booming. Toronto boasts more than 4,500 tech start-up companies. Art and sport festivals are on a steady rotation and passion for the home teams is infectious. (Sorry, Bruins!) Infrastructure projects are focused on growth, and the city shines.

The city is obsessed with the future. Stewards of public policy are unabashedly embracing the new knowledge economy and planning for the future. Areas such as architecture, urban planning, design and how these contribute to the quality of life in an urban setting are considered at great length. The fact that Toronto’s citizens are 50% foreign born adds a dimension of globalization that you simply don’t see in cities of this size. The tech sector here, as in Silicon Valley, is taking advantage of the diversity of thoughts and experiences to create new fields and technological solutions to old vexing problems.

My work here is just beginning and it is very exciting. Over the coming weeks and months I hope to share my thoughts with you about this new enterprise and how it is taking shape. Northeastern is a university on the move and so is the city of Toronto. This is going to be fun!

Connect with Us!