By Chi Nguyen
Dr. Zouheir Fawaz feels your pain, but you may not know it.
“I represent Ryerson for the students, so anything that is related to student life, experience, engagement, and student services falls under my domain,” Fawaz said last Wednesday.
Fawaz has been Ryerson’s acting vice-provost students since the creation of the position in December 2006.
The position itself was created as a result of the President’s Commission on Student Engagement and Experience, completed in August 2006.
Fawaz is responsible for co-ordinating all areas related to student life.
However, not many students know exactly what Fawaz does out of his 12th floor Jorgenson Hall office.
The Eyeopener asked five students around campus on whether they could identify a photograph of Fawaz.
None could. One even apologized.
But, Fawaz has been busy, working with the Registrars Office as well as other projects improving RAMSS, reducing the number of stops and line-ups for students, and inaugurating a student information centre.
For Ryerson President Sheldon Levy, whether students know who their senior administrators are is not critical.
“Is it important for them to know who the president is [for example]? I think far less than knowing who their tutorial leader is,” Levy said.
Gabriel Haba, a third-year electrical engineering student, remembers Fawaz from his first year, when Fawaz was still a professor with the Faculty of Engineering.
“I saw Dr. Fawaz at the first-year engineering orientation. When I had problems, I contacted him about my courses, and he was very helpful.
“If students approach him…he isn’t going to turn them down,” Haba said.
Nora Loreto, president of the Ryerson Students’ Union, thinks Fawaz has good intentions but he won’t be able to solve all the problems facing students.
“Dr. Fawaz is a nice guy, his heart is in the right place, and he’s a good choice for [vice-provost students] because of how he perceives and understands students.
“But some of the problems that need to be taken care of are too systemic to solve.”
Ryerson’s late tuition fee policy, not having a reading week in the fall or enough study time between exams are all examples of problems Ryerson needs to fix, Loreto said.
Haba agrees solving these problems would be a huge accomplishment.
“Making us pay tuition fees at the beginning of first term, making us pay for second term when we haven’t even started it yet, to me it’s so unreasonable. That needs to be changed for all of our sakes.”
Fawaz said he considers all complaints students have.
“Addressing these issues is long-term, not something you can do overnight, or in one month, or in nine months, but certainly starting somewhere.”
The soft-spoken father of five was born and raised in Beirut and immigrated to Canada at 16.
Fawaz loves to travel, and speaks Arabic, French, Spanish, Italian and English.
He attended Laval University and Sherbrooke Univeristy in Quebec, the University of Ottawa, and worked in Alberta on his post-doctorate.
Two of his sons attend Ryerson, one in Information Technology Management and the other in Computer Engineering.
“My children are part of why I’m close to students and their affairs. From my first day in office I have reached out to students, inviting them to contact me whenever they see the need. My door is and always will be open. I believe strongly in communication.”
Fawaz’s interim position will last 18 months while Ryerson looks for a permanent vice-provost students.
However, Fawaz may be given the five-year term if he is deemed the best candidate for the job.
“Because of the interim nature of the appointment, we did something that is not normal, and that is an appointment of an individual without a search process,” said Levy.
This has nothing to do with the individual, Levy said.
“I think [Fawaz] has done wonderfully well,” he said.
Chancellor Raymond Chang, who has vowed to work with Fawaz to reach out to students in the past, hopes he will stay.
“Dr. Fawaz, being the first [vice-provost students], is creating a ground-breaking framework within which all students and student organizations at Ryerson can be heard.
“I encourage all students to seek Dr. Fawaz’s guidance…I would if I was a student.”
For Fawaz, the creation of his position is an important step forward for students because it recognizes that student services are related to the academic faculty of students. This enforces the idea that student engagement is important to Ryerson.
Since 1997, Fawaz has been the director of the School of Aerospace Engineering and the associate dean of the Faculty of Engineering.
“Every professor here can teach, lecture, mark papers, because that’s why we’re hired, but he stands out because of his leadership skills,” said Jeff Xi, an engineering professor.
Fawaz is optimistic he will help students, as long as they’re patient.
“As they say, the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. And I think the first steps in that long journey have been made in the last nine months. At least, I hope so.”