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UTSC psychologist named University Professor

UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Psychologist John Kennedy has been named a University Professor, one of the highest honours for U of T faculty. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

Three U of T faculty receive rare honour

by Mary Ann Gratton (with files from Elaine Smith)

Psychology professor John Kennedy has been named a University Professor, one of the highest honours bestowed upon faculty members at the University of Toronto, in recognition of unique scholarly achievement and pre-eminence in a particular field of knowledge.

Only about two per cent of all faculty members across U of T receive this distinction, and the honourees are chosen by a committee of seven distinguished scholars, chaired by the vice-president and provost of the University of Toronto.

Kennedy is only the second professor at U of T Scarborough to be recognized with this title, along with University Professor John Friedlander of the department of computer and mathematical sciences. This year U of T has also named two other University Professors, including David Jenkins of medicine and nutritional sciences and Philip Sohm of art and University College.

Recipients are nominated by peers from at least two academic departments, with support from up to five scholars of international standing within their disciplines but from academic communities outside of the university. University Professors receive a $10,000 research stipend for five years and retain the title until retirement, when it becomes University Professor Emeritus.

“On behalf of the campus community, I want to offer our warmest and heartfelt congratulations to Professor Kennedy for this tremendous honour --- which is so well-deserved,” said Professor Ragnar-Olaf Buchweitz, vice-principal (academic) and dean. “I know how competitive this process is and how high the level of achievement must be in order for candidates to succeed. We are tremendously proud of this achievement.”

“The rank of University Professor is a prestigious honour that the University bestows on its most distinguished faculty,” said Professor John Bassili, chair of the department of psychology. “Professor Kennedy is widely known for his groundbreaking work on perception, metaphor and drawing by the blind, and he has contributed a great deal to research on vision and tactile perception. We are absolutely delighted to learn about his honour and to celebrate this newest accomplishment along with his longstanding contributions to the field.”

Kennedy focuses on the psychology of perception and cognition as it relates to art, particularly on line pictures drawn by both the sighted and the blind, along with a focus on metaphoric representation in pictures such as political caricatures. He has been with UTSC since 1972, and has earned numerous honours and accolades since then. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and of the American and Canadian Psychological Associations, among other honours. In 2008, Kennedy was named a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Germany. He has served as a visiting professor at several universities in Europe and is the recipient of various academic awards.

“My work has been high-risk and slow developing, demanding patience for many years.” said Kennedy. "To see my findings acknowledged is very rewarding."

A former chair of the department of life sciences at U of T Scarborough, Kennedy is an expert in perception. His research has demonstrated that blind people can understand the referents of raised-line pictures. He has also demonstrated that children, sighted or unsighted, produce similar drawings. In his doctorate on perception, Kennedy demonstrated that the blind can devise metaphoric pictorial devices that are understood by the sighted. Additionally, he determined that drawing development is similar for both people with sight and those without -- and that the latter can devise metaphoric pictorial devices that are understood by the sighted.

According to the citation, Kennedy’s work generates wide public interest. His research has been profiled in a variety of television and science programs. His research continues to challenge common perceptions about whether and how the blind can produce art. These insights have supported major changes in education, publications, museums and art galleries throughout the world, the citation notes, with the advent of blind graduates from art schools and programs on the depiction of art for the blind now available, with representational art as a focus.

The Discovery Channel was one of the television stations to showcase Kennedy’s research on perspective, featuring a blind artist from Turkey. The program has been downloaded more than 400,000 times from the web site over the past year. His work was listed among the Top 10 Ideas and Inventions of 2002 and named among the Top Ideas that Changed the Way We Think that same year by the New York Times.

He advises younger colleagues who wish to emulate him to "follow your nose. If an idea strikes you as worthwhile, possibly with enormous implications, and no one else has taken it on yet, trust yourself. Work on it until you see a complete story."

To read more about the other honourees, click here.


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