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A leader looks back: Professor Paul Thompson’s special relationship with UTSC

Principal Paul Thompson (right) with alumnus John McKay, MP Scarborough East, receiving the Golden Jubilee Award

Professor Paul Thompson has seen UTSC mature from four unique vantages – as a student, a professor, a researcher and for the last 14 years as principal. After 36 years, it was not an easy decision to make but he’s moving on. 

Delighted with the opportunity to help shape UTSC, Thompson departs with the confidence of a person who, with the help of his colleagues, has left a great legacy: UTSC is poised to embrace a dynamic future. 

Over the next 10 years, he predicts UTSC will continue to attract top students to all disciplines, increase the number of unique graduate studies opportunities, have 60 per cent of its students in co-op, and become more widely known for its leading-edge research and scholarship. 

Though he’s leaving UTSC, Thompson won’t be far away. He has accepted the position of director for the Institute for History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at U of T’s Victoria College. 

“The decision to take a position on the St. George campus has not been easy,” says Thompson. “This is a terrific place. UTSC has been great to me and I’ve met such fabulous people here.” 

Flash back three decades, when UTSC experienced a pivotal moment while Thompson was still a student. 

Scarborough College was originally part of the U of T’s faculty of arts and science. But that changed when Claude Bissell, on his last day as president of the University, created the Faculty of Scarborough College,” he says. “The impact was that Scarborough now had its own divisional chairs, selected its own faculty, set curriculum and managed its buildings and development.” 

By the 1980s, Thompson joined the faculty and served as chair of humanities from 1987-89. He became principal in 1989 and it was during the next decade that UTSC would begin to differentiate itself. 

“It was in the 1990s, with the expansion of co-op, the introduction of the bachelor of business administration degree and strengthening of our environmental sciences, that we really distinguished ourselves within U of T,” says Thompson.  

These renowned programs are among the reasons for UTSC’s improved reputation and its 86 per cent surge in applicants this year – twice the provincial increase. 

Last year, Thompson took on another title and responsibility, as vice-president. It was U of T’s way of expressing faith in UTSC to blaze its own trail. It was a proud highlight of his career. 

“The period we entered in 2000 was clearly the second wave of major change,” says Thompson. “The ability we have gained to expand our campus infrastructure will have a lasting impact. These chances only come along about every 30 years and we are once again in a position to be innovative and to set the course for the next 30 years.”

As an academic, Thompson himself has played the role of innovator. After finishing undergraduate studies at UTSC, he completed his PhD in 1978 in the philosophy of science with a thesis that explored the logical and mathematical structure of evolutionary theory and the role of population genetics and ecology within it. 

While a professor of philosophy at UTSC in the 1970s, Thompson introduced a course called Social Issues that applied theories and tools of ethics and morality to practical issues like abortion. His class was the first philosophy class at UTSC to have more than 200 students. 

Thompson’s term ends in June. He will take a year off for travel with his wife Jennifer and then return to take up his new post at U of T’s Victoria College. He says he is excited that he will be able to devote more time to teaching and research – as principal at UTSC he taught every year except one – but he will always have a warm place in his heart for UTSC. Thompson says he hopes to return from time to time to teach a course. 

“I feel a part of this place,” says Thompson. “I grew up in Scarborough and in many ways, at UTSC, and I will always have a keen interest in what is going on here.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough