It is a city within a city, an academic metropolis surrounded by the frantic thoroughfares and vast neighborhoods of Canada’s premier megalopolis. With 52,500 students (37,500 of them full-time) and 11,000 faculty members and staff, the University of Toronto is itself the country’s largest postsecondary institution. And, like an urban centre, it has its skyscrapers and intimate places, its mainstream groups and subcultures. While the city beyond the university shouts to all who will listen that it is “world-class,” the U of T has long been quietly secure in its international stature. “The faculty,” says president
Robert Prichard, “ranks with the great faculties of the English-speaking world.”
That strength helped the 167-year-oid institution win Maclean’s top spot in the
Medical/Doctoral category. But other factors also make the U of T a mecca for students. First, there is the variety of programs and resources: 129 academic departments, 49 libraries, 300 undergraduate and 80 doctoral programs on three campuses. And then there is the cosmopolitan student body—about half of the undergraduates are members of visible minorities—and the multifarious nature of the city beyond the lecture halls. “The diversity of the students is extremely important to me,” says Rebecca Manley, a 21-year-old from Kingston, Ont., who is specializing in the history of Russia and Eastern Europe. The Russian students in some of her courses, she notes, add a great deal to classroom discussions. And when she wants to practise her Russian off-campus, Manley simply heads north several blocks, to the city’s main Russian-speaking neighborhood.
University of Toronto
In addition to the school’s diversity, Toronto native Martin Chang, also 21, appreciates the high calibre of his classmates. Says Chang, who earned his bachelor of science degree (in chemistry, biology and physics) in June, and is now starting a master’s program in physiology: “I’ve found that a lot of the time you could learn a lot more from the students than just plain going to classes.” One drawback of the U of T, he notes, is that “you can get lost in the crowd.” He found his place at Trinity College, one of nine colleges that undergraduate
arts and science students join upon enrolling. “The University of Toronto,” says Prichard, “offers the best of both worlds— membership in a college with all the intimacy and support of a college experience, in the context of membership in a great research university.”
hey came from opposite ends of the country. But Jody Bull of Corner Brook, Nfld., and Aalim Weljie of Calgary wanted the same thing in a university: a close-knit, academically strong school where the overall development of the student is as important as the classroom education. They found it at Mount Allison, in picturesque Sackville, N.B.—the top Primarily Undergraduate university in the Maclean’s rankings for the third consecutive
Mount Allison University
year. Weljie, 20, a third-year chemistry and engineering student, who is president of the university debating team and the co-ordinator of a student counselling and support group, says the school’s small size (2,210 students) and excellent student-professor ratio (16:1) ensure that no one is just a number at Mount Allison. “Students are expected to get involved,” adds Bull, 21, a varsity swimmer and fourth-year student in political science and history, who started a campus tutoring program for Sackville public-school students last year. “Coming here has helped me develop as a person.”
Bull is not alone. Mount Allison, which takes
special pride in its school of fine arts, has 41 Rhodes Scholars to its credit, the highest on a per capita basis of any university in the Commonwealth. And its students rank first among the 18 schools in its category for winning national awards. The past three years have been painful for Mount Allison. It endured a bitter faculty strike in 1992 after it began to cut away at a $2.3-million budget deficit, as well as a strike by unionized support staff earlier this
year. But president Ian Newbould says the school is now in a position to ensure that its record for excellence continues: this year, it has even added seven new tenure-track faculty members, a rare event these days. And, says Newbould, “we intend to remain small and manageable.” That does not mean ignoring the innovative. Every residence room, classroom and office on campus is wired to the university’s central library and to the global Internet. In that sense, the information age has helped to make a fine school even finer.
JOHN DeMONT in Halifax
University of Waterloo
University of Victoria
' hat word again!” exclaims Ian Goldberg when asked about an adjective often applied to the University of Waterloo: geeky. True, Goldberg, a fourth-year major in computer science and pure mathematics, typifies Waterloo’s reputation for excellence in the “hard” subjects. And true, the native of Thornhill, Ont., was one of three Waterloo undergraduates who took first place last March in an international computer programming competition in Phoenix, Ariz. If that merits the “geeky” handle, then Goldberg, 21, can accept it—on one condition. “There’s this subclass of the hacker community,” he explains, “that call themselves geeks, with the connotation that a geek is someone who enjoys what he does and works for fun. It’s a connotation I’m willing to live with.”
That attitude—enthusiasm in work and in study—defines the mind-set at the university that tied for top-ranking in the Comprehensive category. It can be seen throughout the sprawling 900-acre campus on the outskirts of the southwestern Ontario city of Waterloo: students peering earnestly into computer monitors, or talking about midterms in the courtyards outside. “When you get students of that quality,” says the university’s 55-year-old president, James Downey, “then all of your programs go better.” In fact, in this year’s survey of Comprehensive universities, Waterloo students garnered more national academic awards than any other student body.
Co-operative education—the marriage of academics and regular stints of outside work that Waterloo pioneered in the 1950s— remains central to its philosophy of putting ideas to work. But Waterloo is hardly resting on its laurels. Downey points to environmental studies—another field that Waterloo established with Canada’s first faculty devoted to such studies 25 years ago. This October, the university secured a $25.2-million provincial grant for a new environmental science and engineering facility, which will foster innovative research in the two disciplines.
And there is much more to Waterloo than co-ops and hard courses. Its faculty of arts is the largest on campus—no pocket protectors there. As well, the many clubs, pubs and events make for a thriving social scene. Says 18-year-old computer engineering student Ka-Ping Yee, one of Goldberg’s teammates in the programming competition: “There are way too many interesting things around here to get involved in all of them—way, way too many.”
JOE CHIDLEY in Waterloo
The university that shares top ranking among Comprehensive schools reflects certain qualities of Canada itself. Like the country, the University of Victoria is still young, although with deep ties to an older parent. Its grounds, a low-rise campus set amid leafy middleclass suburbs, are polite, pretty and well tended. Its students balance hard-nosed pragmatism with resilient social idealism (like fraternities, the sale of cigarette lighters is banned on campus). In short, for most of those who attend the country’s westernmost university, it plainly feels comfortably like home. Entering her third year, Jennifer Walsh, a 21-year-old linguistics major who values the close-knit fabric of her small home town of Quesnel, B.C., says: “I feel like the University of Victoria is my community now.”
Founded more than 90 years ago as an affiliate college of Montreal’s McGill University, Victoria acquired degree-granting status in 1963. Since then, it has added faculties of nursing, public administration, law and engineering to its original programs in arts and sciences and education. President David Strong, a biologist, describes the university he leads as
sharing Goldilocks’s strategy: searching, he says, for
a happy medium of growth that is “not too hot and not too cold.” The manageable size appeals to students like Walsh. “If I want to get together with the chair of my department because I have a problem,” she says, “I can.”
The school’s practical bent is evident in one of the country’s widest-ranging co-op programs. But pragmatism at U Vic is tempered by both social conscience and a touch of whimsy. With a strong current of environmentalism among its 15,000 fulland
part-time students (and an 11acre nature preserve named Mystic Vale), the campus, says third-year engineering student Wendy Macdonald, 21, “is kind of tree-huggy.” Macdonald adds that U Vic’s youthful 11-year-old engineering program is happily free from negative stereotypes about women that she believes
persist at other universities. In a different sort of departure, U Vic also offers the country’s only joint degree in engineering and
fine arts. One innovative early spinoff: a “virtual gallery” of native Indian art that has been canned into computers and
made available worldwide on the Internet. Like the country it reflects, U Vic remains a work in progress, but one that already does a great many things quietly right.
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