Shopping with Sheldon

Photo Marissa Dederer

So long, Sheldon

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By Sean Wetselaar

The times are a changing here at Ryerson.

You won’t see the change right away, you won’t notice it in any drastic form — this isn’t like the opening of the Student Learning Centre on Yonge. You might not see it in your classes — this won’t affect your professors, or not right away. And you won’t see it walking down Gould Street — those skateboarding kids will still be rolling around Lake Devo until it freezes, and people will play hockey on it once it does.

But little by little they’re changing. And it’s a change at the highest level of the school. Ryerson’s president Sheldon Levy is leaving.

I’ve written those words probably a dozen times in emails and memos and even in stories since he first announced he would be stepping away from the school at the end of the 2014-15 school year (before later coming back for this semester). I’ve thought a lot about what it would mean for the students and for the people in this community, and I’ve come to a strange conclusion.

Levy’s departure may not drastically change the face of Ryerson. The world will keep spinning when provost and vice-president academic Mohamed Lachemi slips open the door to Levy’s old office on the 13th floor of Jorgenson for the first time. Kerr Hall will not burn down, and the SLC will keep sparkling proudly on Yonge Street.

Levy’s contribution is easy to see in physical terms on campus, and you’ll read much about that any many other ways the school’s city-building commander-in-chief affected campus in this week’s feature.

But the ways in which he reshaped Ryerson do not just boil down to new buildings and high acceptance numbers. Levy has a way of getting into the bones of a place, and his perennial optimism and love for the people around him were a huge, if less media-friendly, part of Ryerson’s upswing over the past decade.

You’ll probably be reading a lot of retrospectives on Levy’s time in what he has often called “the best job in the world” in the coming weeks. But for what it’s worth, allow me to illustrate the moment I knew that Sheldon was a different kind of university president.

Early on in my time on masthead (I was a young Arts and Life editor), our news team decided that it would be a good idea to go grocery shopping with the president. They wanted to slug the video “Shopping with Sheldon.” I don’t know what started the idea, but I think it was an attempt to humanize the school’s leader.

Eventually he agreed — but instead of shopping for himself, he insisted upon shopping for The Eyeopener. Levy bought a massive quantity of food for the editors, and early on in the trip through the Loblaws in the former Maple Leaf Gardens, he turned to then-news editors Carolyn Turgeon and Sean Tepper, and asked: “Do you want a turkey?”

Broke students that they were, they agreed to take the huge bird home. It was early April, and eventually masthead decided to have an Easter dinner at a friend’s with the bird — we basted it in his bathtub. It was a strange, and surreal evening to know that the school’s president had bought us the turkey.

And that’s one story of many. Levy is full of these personal moments, with dozens upon dozens of students and staff at Ryerson through his time at the school.

So, will Ryerson survive a changing of the guard on the 13th floor? Of course it will. But whoever eventually takes over, and even the interim Lachemi, has some very big, very kind shoes to fill.

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