Office of the President

Title: University of Toronto.  Office of the President fonds

Date(s) of creation: 1906 -

Physical description:   133 + metres of textual, graphic, sound recordings and moving image records.

Admin. history/ Biographical Sketch:  

The University of Toronto was established at York (now Toronto) by royal charter in 1827 as King's College. Classes were first taught at the College in 1843. In 1849, an Act to Amend the Charter secularized King's College and its name was changed to the University of Toronto. This 1849 amendment provided for a President of the University to be appointed by the Crown and to be subordinate to the Caput and Senate of the University.

The University Act of 1853 separated the examining and degree granting functions of the University from the teaching functions. Instruction of the arts was assigned to the new collegiate institution, University College, while professional courses were taught in the affiliated colleges. The President, to be appointed by the Governor of the province, became the President of the Council of University College but was not a member of the governing body of the University, known as the Corporation of the University of Toronto. It was not until 1873 that the University Act gave the President of University College a place in the Senate and thereby a small voice in the affairs of the University.

When the theological colleges in affiliation with the University of Toronto became federated colleges under the 1887 University Act, the University became a teaching body once again, and authority and responsibility for discipline over students as well as control of the officers and servants of the University was assigned to a new governing body, the University Council. The Act provided for a President of the University Council, who was also to be President of University College. This duality, where the administrative officers of University College were the officers of the University as well, continued until 1906. Moreover, under the 1887 Act, the Vice-Chancellor remained Chair of the Senate, so that the President was not the single head of academic matters.

In the amending Act of 1901 the president was officially recognized as the President of the University of Toronto and the duties of the position were outlined in some detail. However, the Act failed to give the position any real power.

The position of the President changed in 1906 when Section 80 (1) of the 1906 University Act declared the President of the University to be the chief executive officer thereof and assigned to the President the "general supervision over and direction of the academic work of the University, the teaching staff, and the officers and servants employed therein." Furthermore, the President was ex officio member of all faculty councils, Chair of the Council of the Faculty of Arts, and Chair of the Senate. The President was to be appointed by the Board of Governors and was to report annually to the Board and to the Senate "upon the progress and efficiency of the academic work of the University and University College." The President had the power to make recommendations to the Board as to all appointments to, promotions in, and removals from, the teaching staff of the University and to make recommendations regarding the requirements of the academic work of the University. 

A 1946 Report on Administrative Organization at the University of Toronto described the President as both the chief academic officer and the titular head of the University. In these roles, the President had to know at all times what each faculty, college, school, and department was doing, and also had to represent the University to the public. A 1964 report on senior academic administration outlined six areas of academic responsibility for the President, including: (1) determination of curriculum and admissions policy; (2) appointments and promotions of academic personnel; (3) establishment of new academic departments or divisions, elimination or modification of existing departments, and determination of enrolment patterns; (4) determination of research policy; (5) discipline and welfare of students; and (6) information, publicity, and organization of alumni. The report also pointed out that the President served as the link between the Board of Governors and the academic community and was responsible for establishing priorities among the recommendations and proposals from the various academic committees and councils at the University.

The position of the President remained essentially unchanged until the 1971 University Act which abolished the bicameral system and established a Governing Council to direct both administrative and academic matters. Power to appoint the president shifted from the Board of Governors to the Governing Council, and the president must now be a Canadian citizen. In addition to general direction of the academic work of the University, the President has general supervision of the teaching and administrative staffs and makes all recommendations to the Council as to the appointments, promotions, suspensions, and removals from these staffs. The President is ex officio member of every council and reports annually to the Governing Council upon "the administration and the academic work of the University and University College and may make such recommendations with respect thereto as he considers advisable." The President also reports upon any matter referred to the Office by the Governing Council, or upon such other matters as the President may consider advisable. The President acts as the chief executive officer of the Council and the President's  advice should "normally" be sought before a policy proposal reaches Council.  In practice, the President has often delegated some of the Office's functions to various vice-presidents, presidential committees, and presidential assistants. The 1902 University Act authorized the position of Vice-President, which was held by Professor Ramsay Wright until his retirement in 1912. With his retirement, "the office of vice-president ceased to exist as it had never been of importance." 1 It was not until 1948, when President Sidney Smith appointed Claude Bissell as Assistant to the President, that the President again had an official assistant. In 1952, the Board of Governors established the office of Vice-President of the University and Bissell was appointed to that office. When Bissell resigned from the University in 1956, Dr. Murray G. Ross was appointed Executive Assistant to the President for a trial year, and was then elevated to Vice-President, a position he held until 1960.

In the 1960s, several changes were made in the Office of the President to reflect the complexity of administering an expanding university. President Bissell believed that the President of a university should be able to concentrate on specific fields that are crucial at a particular time and be relieved of most day-to-day responsibility for administration. To this end, Bissell created a number of vice-presidential portfolios designed to strengthen the central administration and to improve the lines of communication between central administrative officers and the heads of divisions as well as to enable the President to devote more time to long-range planning and to critical problems being raised on the provincial and national fronts. The appointment of various presidential assistants also helped to relieve the President of day-to-day responsibilities--a practice that continues into the present.

In 1965, the Board of Governors approved President Bissell's recommendation to establish a President's Council that would" consider all matters of priority in the development of the University and of its various parts and divisions, and to advise the President in connection therewith."2 The 1960s also saw a proliferation of presidential advisory committees (PACs) which were established by the President to examine specific problems and to make recommendations to him. Most of these committees were ad hoc, but some, like the Presidential Advisory Committee on Policy and Planning, were standing committees that advised the President on a variety of important matters, often with far-reaching consequences.

In 1972, John Robert Evans began a term as President of the University in which his major challenge was to oversee the implementation of the new unicameral system of government. He changed the administrative structure of the University, relating it to the committees of the Governing Council so that the five standing committees of the Council were each serviced by a vice-president. Under President Evans, vice-presidents were appointed for three- to five-year terms, but retained certain academic duties so that they could return to teaching when their appointments ended. Each vice-president has a certain amount of freedom to organize his/her office, and this fact, combined with the limited terms of office, has led to a fair degree of change among .the administrative officers of the University. In addition, vice-presidential portfolios are created, discontinued, or revised as the needs and priorities of the University and its President change.

The wide variety of demands placed on the President of the University of Toronto are best summed up in former Registrar Robin Ross' description of the qualities that the University looks for in choosing a President: educational leadership, the ability to relate the university effectively to the public and the governments, an advanced degree of political sensitivity and acumen, and personal integrity. 3

1 W. Stewart Wallace, A History of the University of Toronto, 1827-1927 (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 1927), 184.

2Board of Governors, Minutes, 29 April 1965, A79-0012/001(02).

3 Robin Ross, The Short Road Down: A University Changes (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1984), 84.


Scope and content: 

Administrative files of the Office of the President, including the files of vice-presidents, presidential committees, and presidential assistants. Forms of records include: correspondence and memoranda; minutes; tables and statistics; and reports.  Arranged in series.

Access/use:  Restricted.  Subject to review under Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act

    Finding aids:  Inventory of the Office of the President records



Related records in a different fonds:

Accruals:  Further accruals are expected.

  Corresponding accessions: See Inventory of the Office of the President records for accessions received up to 1998.   Additional accessions A2001-0014/ A2002-0011/ A2003-0008/ A2006-0013