New U of T VP and principal driven to succeed
July 5, 2018
His mother didn’t attend school and dad had a basic education.
Yet, Professor Wisdom Tettey was surrounded by parents and a close circle of caring people with a passion for higher education.
Immersed in such a fertile and progressive environment paid off for the distinguished scholar and exceptional administrator who is the University of Toronto Scarborough campus new vice-president and principal.
“Higher education for us was always your conduit for upward mobility,” said Tettey whose five-year term began on July 1. “Understanding that a commitment to education is an important element of what allows you to open your horizons and to be able to be mobile was always there. My siblings were very supportive in that they took me to the university campus and the bookstore and I was inspired. We also had a very intellectually vibrant home in that a lot of my cousins and uncles would congregate for debates and other stimulating activities. That nurtured my own interest and sustained it over time.”
The dean of arts & sciences at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Okanagan campus since July 2015, Tettey comes to the U of T after an extensive global search.
“One of the reasons this new position was particularly interesting for me is because it goes to the context which is one that is similar to the one that I am used to here,” he pointed out. “They have a tri-campus structure while we have a dual-campus structure at UBC. Working in an environment where you have this relationship across different campuses is one that I am familiar with. Beyond structure, the biggest thing for me is the values they espouse. That campus, in particular, has foci that fit into my own sense of what we as a university bring to our communities.”
The lead investigator 13 years ago on a World Bank study on faculty retention in African universities, Tettey was impressed with the U of T Scarborough campus engagement with its surrounding community.
One of the very successful initiatives is the Imani Mentorship Program (IMP) that pairs middle and high school students in the Galloway, Malvern and other Scarborough communities with U of T mentors.
“Their students work with the community on a number of experiential learning opportunities,” said Tettey. “For me, being able to cultivate the next generation of leaders based on an ethos that’s not just about self, but about community and being citizens of the world and giving of ourselves for that larger purpose was a deciding factor. Building on connections with the community, I think, is something we can foster some more. It shouldn’t be just a one-way street where we are drawing on the community. We have a multiplicity of communities and it’s about ensuring how do we work with those host communities to make sure they are a visible part of what we do.
“…In terms of my own scholarship, just looking at the diversity of the Toronto region and particularly for people of African descent, that environment definitely provides fertile ground for engagement, knowledge co-creation and policy possibilities that have benefitted communities that I worked with. The stature of UBC as a global institution and going to an institution that’s global and has a high reputation was also another attraction for me.”
U of T is listed 22nd in the world and first in Canada in an influential ranking of the world’s top 100 most powerful university brands. U of T also ranks 11th among the world’s top publicly funded universities.
While pursuing his first degree in political science and Russian at the University of Ghana, Tettey spent his third year in Moscow. He came to Canada 28 years ago to do graduate studies.
“I looked at different places and the Commonwealth tend to be quite a natural fit because of the colonial history and the many things we have in common,” he said. “I had a number of offers from different institutions, but I chose UBC partly because I was told the winter is not as harsh in British Columbia as in other parts of Canada.”
Tettey completed a Master’s and PhD in political science at UBC and Queen’s University respectively and was a Killiam Resident Fellow at the University of Calgary and a visiting research fellow at the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development.
His research covers myriad disciplines and his areas of expertise include mass media, political communication, civic engagement in Africa, the African diaspora and transnational citizenship.
Though he visited Toronto regularly while at Queen’s University, this is the first time that Tettey – who taught at the University of Calgary for 13 years and was the interim dean of the Faculty of Communication & Culture before joining UBC -- will be residing in the Greater Toronto Area.
“I have a lot of friends there in and out of the academic setting,” said the 2013 Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences fellow. “There isn’t a shortage of people to connect with.”
They include Ghanaian-born Dr. George Dei who is one of Canada’s foremost scholars on race and anti-racism studies.
“George is a friend, colleague and mentor in many ways,” said Tettey who served as the dean of the Faculty of Creative & Critical Studies at the UBC Okanagan campus for four years before being chosen to lead its arts & sciences faculty.
Dei, who is a professor of humanities, social sciences and social justice education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT), considers Tettey a friend and trusted colleague.
“I am very thrilled that he’s coming to the U of T in this most powerful position,” said Dei whose extensive body of work has been devoted to constructive change in education -- within and beyond the classroom -- to advance equity and diversity. “This appointment is hugely significant for its possibilities. I am more than confident that his tenure and leadership will see more progressive changes at the wider university, particularly in the definition and realization of academic excellence, broadly defined to include all processes of educational delivery – teaching, learning and the administration of education.”
Tettey’s vast leadership skills and international experience, noted Dei, will be tremendous assets as U of T prioritizes outreach to marginalized and under-served communities.
“Wisdom is equity-minded and shares in the dream of ‘excellence with equity’,” Dei, a Royal Society of Canada fellow, added. “He’s a top-notch administrator, academic scholar and researcher who has had a profound and lasting impact on the institutions and the places he has been. This is going to be exciting times for the University of Toronto and our communities as a whole. This appointment is long overdue.”
Tettey replaces Professor Bruce Kidd who was at the forefront of Canada’s opposition to South Africa’s anti-apartheid regime.
“Though we come from different disciplines and didn’t cross paths before, I know what a wonderful contribution Bruce has made individually as an academic, but also to sport,” Tettey said. “He is very connected to the community and he did a wonderful job of making the campus relevant and helping it to fulfil its mission. He has left quite a solid foundation for those that are following him to build on.”