First Muslim to be Named Permanent Head of Canadian University
By Daniel Girard

From left: Mac Braid, the Honorable Tony Valeri, Peter George, and Mamdouh Shoukri. Photo credit: Chantall Van Raay

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 university.
"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 university.
"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 staff.
"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 governors.
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 holidays.
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 history."
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)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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