First Muslim to be Named
Permanent Head of Canadian University
By Daniel Girard
left: Mac Braid, the Honorable Tony Valeri, Peter
George, and Mamdouh Shoukri. Photo credit: Chantall
York University has long been
known as one of Canada's most diverse campuses. That reputation
will soon start at the top.
When Mamdouh Shoukri, an Egyptian-born engineer, becomes
the new president of York in the summer, he will be the
first Muslim appointed as the permanent head of a Canadian
"This is Canada. It's a mosaic," Shoukri, 59,
said in his first media interview since being named the
seventh president in the history of Canada's third-largest
"I see this as the leadership role at a progressive
Canadian university, which will have a diverse population,
whether it's among the students or among the faculty and
"This is the nature of the country we live in and this
is what we do."
Shoukri, currently vice-president of research and international
affairs at McMaster University in Hamilton, had his appointment
confirmed Tuesday night at a meeting of York's board of
A highly regarded mechanical engineer, researcher and academic
administrator, Shoukri will take over from Lorna Marsden,
who is retiring June 30 after 10 years in the post.
Under Marsden, the Israel-Palestinian debate became a flashpoint
at York, which has one of the largest Jewish populations
at a Canadian university. Critics on both sides have accused
the administration of being heavy-handed and stifling debate.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission is examining York's
long-standing practice of canceling classes on high Jewish
Shoukri, who came to Canada 35 years ago to study at McMaster,
said it was too early for him to pass judgment on such debates
at York. But, he said, "every group within (the university's)
diverse population ... should be assured that they have
a president who works for them."
Student groups expressed pride at Shoukri's appointment.
“Most importantly, his selection is based on his credentials,"
said Kamal Haseeb, president of York's Muslim Association.
"The fact he's Muslim just solidifies the acceptance
of all groups and faiths.
"The diversity on campus is not always reflected at
an administrative level. This is great to see."
Adam Hummel of Hillel at York, known as the centre for Jewish
life on >campus, called Shoukri's selection "very
Canadian" and a reflection of >York's population.
"And, I couldn't be prouder," Hummel said.
Hummel said he hoped Shoukri's appointment would "wipe
the slate clean" on the tone of Israel-Palestinian
debate on campus. York Federation of Students president
Corrie Sakaluk said, "It's great to see York making
One senior York official said Shoukri's ethnicity had no
bearing on his >hiring."We didn't hire him because
he's a Muslim," said the person, who asked not to be
identified. "We hired him because of who he is - a
fantastic researcher, a fantastic educator, a great administrator.
"We're very proud that we could hire him no matter
what his ethnic background."
Shoukri, who believes his ethnic background will fade as
a topic after the initial media hype, said his list of long-term
objectives includes building on York's diversity, interdisciplinary
studies and accessibility as well as being "at the
leading edge of linking university research and education
to the needs of society.
"I think this is the sign of a progressive university
in the 21st century." (Courtesy The Toronto Star)