Urgent call for action: Say no to Rhonda Lenton as the next president of York University

Dear members of the York Community,

The Presidential Search Committee is a “confidential” body established by Senate and the Board of Governors to choose our next President. The committee appears to be moving towards appointing Provost Rhonda Lenton as the next President of York University.

As someone who has worked at York for a long time, and in ever more senior executive positions, Provost Rhonda Lenton should have earned the widest possible support and endorsement from across the university for her leadership. After speaking to dozens of York faculty and staff about the presidential search, we found no support for her to become the next president; most commonly, the reaction was shock and disbelief about the possibility.

Provost Lenton is widely seen as a divisive, top-down, and sometimes careless manager. Witness the experience of the Academic and Administrative Program Review (AAPR), when despite grave concerns expressed by chairs and faculty, one university unit was pitted against another in the competition to protect their programs, creating an environment of fear, disappointment, and retribution that has created lasting damage to the institution. Academic planning under her helm (under rubrics such as IIRP and UAP) has undermined the role of collegial bodies and subordinated them to managerial prerogatives.

For many members in the York community, she personifies managerialism and a gradual erosion of the public university. As a communicator, she struggles to connect effectively with collegial audiences beyond the realm of high administration. She has a troubling record in academic staff relations, and is widely seen to be responsible for unusually prolonged, difficult contract negotiations with CUPE and YUFA and then, within a short time after signing agreements, effectively reneging on them with each of those unions – for instance, over international student fees and teaching load reductions.

The legacy of Provost Lenton’s administration is a university that is more tiered, differentiated, and bureaucratic. Full time faculty are diminished in numbers and overworked, half of the instructors in the institution work under precarious and vulnerable conditions, students’ learning conditions (including access to books and other resources) and indeed the reputation of the university have deteriorated. Student faculty ratios have risen alarmingly while appointments, salaries and budgets for administrators are more bloated than ever. Managerial processes overwhelm faculty time and accomplish little to support academic work.

For large sectors of the university community, Rhonda Lenton does not embody the values outlined in the York University vision and mission. Her actions repeatedly reflect her lack of respect for social justice, collegial governance, faculty expertise, and research enhancement.

As faculty members, we are surprised and distressed by the possibility of an unpropitious appointment that would harm this cherished institution for years to come. We urge the university community to rise in protest and call on the Presidential Search Committee to avoid an outcome to their deliberations that will be universally rejected. Let’s choose instead a president who will inspire and bring us all together.

Jody Berland

Ricardo Grinspun