By Nicole Schmidt
On Dec. 1, former provost and vice-president academic Mohamed Lachemi started his term as Ryerson’s interim president.
Lachemi will take over for former president Sheldon Levy while a search committee narrows down a list of candidates for a long-term replacement. The university is expected to decide on a new president by spring or summer 2016.
Since beginning his tenure in 1998, Lachemi has used strategic planning to facilitate change at Ryerson. The Eyeopener sat down for a Q and A with him to talk about his plans going forward into the school year.
How has your role as provost and vice-president academic prepared you for being Ryerson’s interim president?
I have been at Ryerson for almost 18 years. I’ve seen huge growth in this place and I feel lucky to have been part of the transformation. Overall I feel very confident that my experience at Ryerson and before that will really help me with any challenges in the position of interim president.
Did Sheldon Levy pass along any words of wisdom?
I have been working closely with Sheldon over the past few years. Sheldon will never stop giving wisdom about students. Any meeting, any discussion we have is always a place to put students first. Working with him was great, he’s a true leader. The advice that I’ve taken from him over the past few years is to care about students. That’s the most important.
What are your top priorities for the rest of the school year?
When I talk about priorities, they are the priorities for the entire institution. We spent last year consulting with the whole community — students, faculty, staff, but also our extended partners — to establish what our priorities are for the university and we put them in our academic plan. We have a huge list of strategies to really move forward. Of course, this requires the university to get additional space — especially for programming and for all students.
Ryerson has seen a lot of growth over the past decade. How will the university continue that momentum?
We’re making sure that we move quickly in a number of capital projects. As you can see, the construction of the Church Street Development is starting. We have another residence project on Jarvis Street to give more capacity in terms of housing for our students. We are now finding space for our theatre students and we are working very hard to give them state-of-the-art facilities in the basement of the SLC. We have some limits in terms of lab space for our students and our researchers in the faculty of science, so we are leasing space with MARS to relieve some of the pressure. We are also establishing a biomedical innovation zone for our students to take their ideas to the next level. There is a lot of excitement around the projects and I think we will move ahead and maintain the momentum for our institution.
Where do you see Ryerson five years from now?
Ryerson really is a place to be now and I can assure you it’s a place to be five or 10 years from now. Down the road, Ryerson will definitely establish itself as the innovation university in Canada and we are taking a lead in many aspects. Our concept of visual learning has a lot of merit in terms of transforming the way that we deliver education to our students. I think we have an obligation towards our city and the communities around us to work with them and give opportunities to do hands-on work with students. We want to give students opportunities to solve problems, work with industry leaders and get mentorship. We think this is a way for the university to establish itself as a innovation university, not only locally, but at the national and international level.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.