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Canadian Anglican to head Cambridge University

Posted on: October 12, 2016 1:14 PM
Stephen Toope, who is currently director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, is set to become vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge on 1 October 2017.
Photo Credit: Anglican Journal

[Anglican Journal, by Tali Folkins] A Canadian Anglican has been chosen to head one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Stephen Toope, who has served on a number of high-profile church bodies, was recently nominated as vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, according to the University of Toronto’s U o T News. Assuming the appointment will be approved by the university’s governing body, Toope will begin in his new role on 1 October 2017. He will be the 346th vice-chancellor in the university’s 800-year history, and is believed to be the first non-Briton to serve in the position.

Toope, who is currently director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, said he was completely surprised when he received the offer, unaware the university had even been searching for someone to fill the post.

A Cambridge alumnus – he completed a PhD there in 1987 – Toope told U of T News he was excited to be returning as an administrator. “I had a wonderful time when I was at Cambridge,” he said. “It was extremely rewarding and the university’s ability to attract people from all around the globe was apparent every day.”

Ian White, master of Jesus College, Cambridge, and the head of the search team, said Toope had been chosen because he has “impeccable academic credentials, a longstanding involvement with higher education, strong leadership experience and an excellent research background.”

Toope obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature and European history from Harvard University, and then did two law degrees at McGill University before studying at Cambridge. He has served as dean of law at McGill University, president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and president and vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia.

Toope has also served on a number of church and secular bodies. He was a member of a task force on the church’s future in an increasingly secular world led by then-primate Archbishop Michael Peers. He advised the diocese of New Westminster on canon law when it was considering blessing same-sex unions, and also served as chair of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) Committee. He was chair of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, fact-finder for the Maher Arar commission, and helped create the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2015.

Toope’s father was a priest, and his mother served for a time as secretary of their parish. In a 2015 interview, Toope told the Anglican Journal he felt his Anglican upbringing probably played a role in his later interest in justice.

“It’s always hard to tease out where these things come from, but both of my parents—the church was their life,” he said. “I always sang in the choir; it was always part of daily life. The values you imbue, they become part of you.”