Ryerson University will now be called Toronto Metropolitan University after a proposal to change its name was approved Tuesday by its board of governors.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi recommended the Toronto Metropolitan name from a shortlist developed by a committee of professors, administrators, students and alumni. The board voted on the decision at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The renaming process began last year in response to a task force that examined the legacy of the university’s namesake, 19th-century educational reformer Egerton Ryerson.
Protests over the use of the Ryerson name date back more than a decade and took aim primarily at Mr. Ryerson’s connection to the design of the Indigenous residential schools system. The task force decided his name had become linked for many people with a system that that has been called an act of cultural genocide, because it forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families.
Dr. Lachemi said the new name reflects the wishes of tens of thousands of community members who said they wanted to highlight the university’s location and its values.
“It’s a name that fits us perfectly,” said Dr. Lachemi. “We’re located in the heart of our country’s biggest and most diverse city, so the university represents all that it means to be metropolitan. We are a gathering place for people from all over the world, from all walks of life, with broad and diverse perspectives, lived experiences and aspirations.”
Although the new name is similar to that of the University of Toronto, Dr. Lachemi said he thinks there’s a distinctive niche for the Toronto Metropolitan University. He pointed out that London Metropolitan University exists alongside the University of London, and Tokyo Metropolitan University alongside the University of Tokyo.
Ryerson, located in Toronto’s downtown, began as a technical institute in 1948. Its founding principal, Howard Kerr, thought the Ryerson name would signal credibility and tradition. The new institution was located on the same spot where Mr. Ryerson had opened the Toronto Normal School for the education of teachers in 1847.
It eventually became a polytechnic, then a polytechnic university, before becoming Ryerson University in 2002. The university has grown quickly over the last two decades, expanding to 40,000 full-time students with a new law school in 2020 and a medical school scheduled to open in Brampton by 2025.
The university expects the transition to the Toronto Metropolitan name will be well underway by the start of the fall semester. Some websites will be able to use the new name very quickly, while signs on campus will take longer to replace.
The university branding and logos, with the blue and yellow colour scheme, will not change. The Ryerson name will still appear on official documents such as transcripts and degrees until the university’s governing legislation is amended, which likely will not happen until after a provincial election expected in June.
Jennifer Simpson, Ryerson’s provost, said the new name will better reflect the values the university wants to present to the world. It’s the first university in Canada to change its name in response to debates over colonization and historical commemoration.
“The university is really out in front in finding a way forward and acknowledging the complications and complexities of colonialism,” Dr. Simpson said.
Dr. Simpson led the renaming committee that presented a shortlist of possibilities to Dr. Lachemi, a process that began with a survey completed by 30,000 people. It led to a list of possibilities the committee thought could serve the university for decades to come.
Tanya (Toni) De Mello, the law school’s assistant dean of students, also sat on the renaming committee, composed of a broad range of people, including Indigenous representatives. The group concluded the new name had to reflect the diversity of the campus as well as its connection to the city and to innovation, Dr. De Mello said.
The university hired a brand consultancy, Operative, to assist the committee in ensuring the suggested names would not infringe on other existing institutions and would not carry negative associations in other languages and cultures.
Opposition to the Ryerson name gathered momentum last year following the discovery of unmarked graves at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Many Ryerson students and faculty stopped using its name in their bios and on CVs, using the name “X” university instead. A statue of Egerton Ryerson was pulled down after a demonstration last June and the university did not replace it.
A group calling itself the Friends of Egerton Ryerson campaigned to stop the name change, arguing Mr. Ryerson had been unfairly judged. Mr. Ryerson died in 1882 before the residential school system was widespread, but his work has been linked with an 1879 report by Nicholas Flood Davin that laid the foundation for the system.
Dr. Lachemi said Ryerson’s name had come to represent something divisive, but he added the past will not be erased.
“This process of changing names has been driven by our values and the importance of being more inclusive. However, I think it’s important to recognize that what has been done in the last 73 years is also a source of pride for all of us, and we should not shy away from that,” Dr. Lachemi said.
POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, April 26, 2022