Olivia Chow will be joining Ryerson as a distinguished visiting professor. Reporter Brennan Doherty spoke with her about her decision.
Q: I understand that Ryerson approached you about the offer to be a distinguished visiting professor over the Christmas break. What was the first thing that went through your mind when you first got the email, or the phone call?
A: I was travelling at the time and I thought ‘Oh, this would be interesting.’ I thought about it and I met with the faculty of arts dean – and also because I worked with Sheldon Levy when he was the vice-president over at the University of Toronto. So I’ve both gotten to know Sheldon very well and Ryerson quite well. So that’s why I picked Ryerson.
Q: Was it a difficult decision?
A: No. I mean there were two reasons. Number one, Ryerson is really wonderful in bringing people together for the intellectual challenges, but also for practical skills that are very applicable. Also, it’s the heart of the city, working to make an impact – not just in Toronto, of course, but across Canada. And also I have a sentimental reason. My late husband Jack Layton taught here as a tenured professor for at least 10 years quite a long time ago. So for me to come back to Ryerson is very fitting.
Q: Did any other universities approach you about an offer? Did you approach other institutions and ask to teach with them?
A: I had two universities that approached me around the same time as Ryerson and I thought, ‘I like Ryerson.’ You know Ryerson has very committed, very passionate faculty members. [It’s] a place that is growing and young people here are so engaged in the city, which is the top reason why I’m here.
Q: Do you know what your duties may entail? Who you’ll be working with, or what sort of classes you’ll be teaching?
A: It’s a combination of things. I may or may not actually deliver a full curriculum course. I’m setting up mentorship programs. [Teaching] people, students and community members that want to learn how to organize, how to have an impact in their community, how to get engaged whether it’s fruitful from the community and politically.
I have a bit of experience with that front, so I’m pulling together – whether it’s lectures or programs, sessions, workshops, all of those things would be part of my task.