BRIDGING THE GENDER GAP

In Arts & Life /

By Alex Hamlyn

Arts & Life Editor

Thirty years ago, you would be hardpressed to find a warm body in the Ryerson administration that didn’t have an X and a Y chromosome. Now, men are taking the backseat to upcoming successful and powerful women at the university.

It shouldn’t be that surprising that the fairer sex are starting to make up more of the administration — the 12,810 female undergrads at Ryerson already outnumber the 10,116 males. The newly-hired Vice Provost Students, Heather Lane Vetere, is an addition to a growing number of women who occupy Rye’s top spots.

Women like Jean Kennedy, the school’s interim athletic director, and Marion Creery, head of Student Services, have spent almost their entire professional careers building Ryerson into a respected university from a polytechnic institute.

There is also Nora Farrell, Ryerson’s ombudsperson. While she is not on the school’s payroll, it’s her job to be a watchdog of the administration. She goes to bat for students who feel they’re being treated unfairly.

Perhaps most impressive of all is Julia Hanigsberg. She’s been the school’s general counsel for only two years, and she’s already President Levy’s right hand woman.

General counsel is really just a another way of saying that Hanigsberg is Ryerson’s lawyer. The job is only a few years old, and Hanigsberg, who began in January 2006, is the first to take on the role.

“I’m very privileged in the way Sheldon created the position,” she says, adding that by working with the school’s executive she’s afforded a “rich perspective on the school.”

Levy says that he created the position when he realized that Ryerson was spending a boat load of cash on external legal advice and noticed the school was still lacking someone who knew the inner workings and demands of the school. Hanigsberg, a Montreal native, already had a prestigious career before she came to Ryerson. After law school, she worked as one of 27 lawyers across the country as a clerk for the Supreme Court of Canada.

She later worked at a string of jobs with the provincial government. During that time she helped ease the transition between the past three governments. She continued to work in the provincial sphere as she was appointed the chief of staff to Attorney General Michael Bryant. While her professional career was taking off, Hanigsberg was faced with tragedy at home.

In 1995, two of her triplets died shortly after birth. As a result, she co-wrote a book, Mother Troubles: Rethinking Contemporary Maternal Dilemmas. The birth of twins followed in 2000, who which also faced health issues. All this led Hanigsberg to learn more about multiple births.

“When you go to your doctor you assume they are using medical data to give advice,” she says, adding that her experiences compelled her to join a research steering committee headed by her obstetrician Dr. John Barrett, a leading researcher of multiple births. “I was surprised that no one had done research on this.”

A lot of her work involved organizations in transition. When Ryerson offered her the job, after she came highly recommended to Levy, Hanigsberg saw it as a challenge.

“There was definitely a steep learning curve,” she says. “I’ve never worked in an environment where students are the business.”

She learned the business quickly from one of Ryerson’s top administrators. Linda Grayson is the VP Administration and Finance and Hanigsberg thinks that Grayson was instrumental in her success.

“I was lucky. I learned a tremendous amount from Linda,” she says.

Levy also made Hanigsberg feel comfortable in her new position. “In Sheldon, I have the best boss you could ever imagine,” she says, adding that besides his leadership approach, he’s fair to his employees.

“I don’t see Sheldon as somebody who has any problem taking advice from women.”

Besides the wealth of ideas she brought as secretary of the Board of Governors, such as creating an ad that ran in all of Toronto’s major dailies in fall 2007, Hanigsberg has excelled in her job as general counsel.

From the privacy debate over Turnitin. com, with students concerned about the vulnerability of their work to America’s Patriot Act, to other high profile issues.

Even in the face of Sears’ legal firepower, Hanigsberg has staunchly argued for the school. Sears claims the school has not fulfilled its donation agreement, while Hanigsberg maintains Sears miscalculated the numbers, and Ryerson is not at fault.

While she may appear a change junkie, jumping between exciting job opportunities, Hanigsberg says she’s not going anywhere soon.

“I don’t see Ryerson as somewhere that will be status quo for some time,” she says. “I don’t have any plans for moving on. I’ve been having a lot of fun and enjoying it here.”

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