Canadian News Oct 9, 2021 7:46 PM EST

Canadian Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University resigns amid 'too woke' criticism

Toope's time issued 'reforms' to university policy that drew fire from all sides of the culture war.

Canadian Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University resigns amid 'too woke' criticism
Adam Dobrer Vancouver

Stephen Toope arrived at the University of Cambridge in 2017 as the first non-Brit to hold the position of vice-chancellor. He arrived in Cambridge to bring a much venerated yet orthodox institution into the 'modern era.' Last week, he announced his resignation, effective at the close of this academic year amid consistent and vicious criticism in the British press.

He came with considerable pedigree, being headhunted for the role while a director of the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs. Before that, he spent eight years as president and vice-chancellor at UBC and five years as the youngest dean of law in the history of McGill University. In between McGill and UBC, Toope was the founding president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, supporting research in the humanities and social sciences.

Toope brought modern debates to the forefront at Cambridge, drawing the ire of many on opposing sides of questions on freedom of speech, diversity, racism, the lingering effects of colonialism, among others. He also discussed increasingly relevant items, including 'cancel culture,' deplatforming, and the rising influence of the Chinese regime on academic institutions.

Toope, however, maintained his reasons for leaving are more personal.
"The upheaval of COVID has led me to reassess my years ahead from a personal perspective," Toope writes in a statement. "As an expat living far from home, being separated from my children and grandchildren by closed borders has been hard. Being near my own family and friends is more important than ever."

He described his time at Cambridge as an "extraordinary," and that [he] takes "a great deal of pride in our accomplishments, which were built together as a collegiate Cambridge community." He acknowledged the pandemic brought the school "its hardest years since World War II."
Nonetheless, "I take a great deal of pride in our accomplishments, which were built together as a collegiate Cambridge community," he wrote.

Toope's time issued 'reforms' to university policy that drew fire from all sides of the culture war. In December, an updated Freedom of Speech Statement grabbed international headlines because, in advocating for the update, said the core value of freedom of speech required a caveat, "the need to maintain civility."

"The growth of social media and the rapid polarisation of our political sphere has demonstrated more than ever that debate in the absence of civility can be not only unproductive but hugely damaging," wrote Toope. After the protest of many Cambridge faculty over concerns the new policy would curtail freedom of speech and academic freedom, and a vote by a substantial majority vote by Cambridge Regent House, Toope's guidelines were watered down to require only a "tolerance of differing opinions."

He has also faced criticism for expanding the amount of funding that Cambridge received from the Chinese regime.

In Toope's last address to begin the academic year, he admitted some missteps in unveiling his reforms but remained defiant in his vision. "I will never apologize for seeking to make our university a better environment in which to work and to study," he said.

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