University of Toronto Vexed by Birgeneau's Exit

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While UC Berkeley prepares for the arrival of University of Toronto President Robert Birgeneau as chancellor, students and faculty at U of T are decrying the president's decision to leave before the end of his term.

Birgeneau leaves U of T four years into his seven-year contract with the premiere Canadian public university, even though he asked for a two-year extension of his original five-year contract.

The decision draws criticism from even his strongest supporters.

His departure comes just months after two high-ranking U of T administrators left the university.

"We've had so many administrators leave, and here's just another person leaving and abandoning the ship," said Chris Ramsaroop, president of the university's Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students. "He's supposed to have a commitment to our university."

Birgeneau leaves in a time when the university is in the preliminary stages of its new academic plan, a blueprint outlining how to improve U of T's international prestige. University administrators and faculty have recently submitted their proposals for the plan.

"It is such a short amount of time," Ramsaroop said. "Previous professors were able to establish their legacies through long-term commitments to the university-he hasn't done that."

Without completing his entire term, some wonder what kind of mark Birgeneau can leave on U of T.

"There certainly is a sense of regret-we never realized the potential that he could have brought to the institution," said George Luste, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association. "It's too early to pass judgement-we have to wait and look at the people he appointed and see how they fare."

One of Birgeneau's most controversial appointments, former Vice President and Provost Shirley Neuman, left the university last spring amid complaints about her performance and relationships with students.

Some members of the chancellor advisory committee at UC Berkeley have even hinted that the delay of the chancellor announcement was due to Birgeneau's reluctance to leave U of T before the four-year mark in his tenure. When he takes over UC Berkeley's top spot in October, he will have rounded off his fourth year as U of T president, completing more than half of his term.

"I would have preferred that this opportunity came at another time," Birgeneau said at a press conference following his appointment. "But I have in place a tremendously competent leadership team-I have confidence in the selection team and possible appointees (for my successor)."

Birgeneau said he will see the university through the transition of appointing an interim president.


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