For almost 80 years, my alma mater was known as Ryerson (when I attended back in the early ‘80s, the school was called Ryerson Polytechnical Institute).
But with Egerton Ryerson being linked to residential schools, the cancel culture mob demanded change. Egerton’s statue was beheaded and torn down last August. And the tall forehead types at RU immediately set about coming up with a new name for the institution. In fact, many members of the faculty and student body were already referring to Ryerson as “University X.”
(Which, all things considered, is kinda cool in a Marvel Comics vibe sort of way, a la Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.)
In any event, here’s what the university’s president and vice-chancellor Mohamed Lachemi had to say about the name switcheroo in a press release: “I cannot think of a better name than Toronto Metropolitan University. Metropolitan is a reflection of who we have always been – an urban institution dedicated to excellence, innovation, and inclusion and who we aim to be – a place where all feel welcome, seen, represented and celebrated.”
Really? Methinks the renaming strategy had more to do with not linking the institution to an actual living person so that yet another rebranding doesn’t have to be done in the decades ahead should a skeleton emerge from that person’s closet. (I reached out to Lachemi, but he was too busy to answer my questions. What a splendid way to treat an alumnus!)
We paid a visit to the campus and while many said a renaming was required nobody was thrilled with Toronto Metropolitan University, many making the point that this place of higher learning now sounds like a subway station.
But names and rebranding aside, a question arises: is Dr. Egerton Ryerson getting a bum wrap?
Consider the superb scholarly article pertaining to the Ryerson controversy published a few weeks ago in The Dorchester Review, “The Imbecile Attack on Egerton Ryerson: An Assault on Decency.”
This feature, penned by Ronald Stagg and Patrice Dutil, states that Dr. Egerton Ryerson was actually a “great Torontonian by any standard.”
The authors note: “Ryerson (1803–1882) was one of the most influential figures in the history of Upper Canada and was in his day considered the very paragon of the forward-looking, progressive, inclusive, worldly intellectual. He was a beacon of educational reform, a fighter against injustice of all sorts, and a kind and generous man. A Methodist minister, he pushed for religious equality and has long been celebrated as the founder of Ontario’s public school system.”
Furthermore, going back more than a decade when the usual progressive suspects on campus and elsewhere began their anti-Egerton Ryerson jihad, the facts of the matter indicate that this ill-advised witch-hunt was misguided from the get-go. As Stagg and Dutil point out:
“The flame having caught, Ryerson University’s Aboriginal Education Council issued a paper in 2010 declaring that Dr. Ryerson had played a defining role in establishing Residential Schools. The document contained misspelled names and statements that were not backed up by references. Based on limited research, it included material from a discredited, defrocked United Church minister, and was not subject to peer review; nor was it circulated outside a small circle of administrators. Nevertheless, Ryerson University soon inserted a statement on its website asserting that Egerton Ryerson had indeed played a nefarious role in Indigenous education.
“The Sinclair Commission’s recognition that Ryerson was not a party to creating post-Confederation residential schools should have been enough — given the oracular status accorded everywhere to the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission]— for the University to reverse the campaign against its own namesake. Nevertheless, Ryerson’s administration unveiled a plaque in 2018” that linked Egerton Ryerson to the Indian Residential School System, which had the goal of “cultural genocide.”
As well, it should be noted that Dr. Ryerson passed away two years before the residential school system had been established.
Alas, when it comes to dealing with the cancel culture enthusiasts on campus — people who perhaps are fueled more by emotion rather than education — to paraphrase that classic Tina Turner song, “What’s truth got to do with it?”