Reflections at the End of the Year: Interim Principal John H. Young
As I write these words, I have about two weeks remaining as the interim principal of Emmanuel College. Time has passed very quickly since late last March when Victoria University President, Will Robins, approached me to see if I would be willing to come to Emmanuel as Interim Principal. The time since August 15, the date I began my term in this role, has passed especially quickly. The end of one’s time in a position, however long, is a good occasion for reflection, so I want to share some thoughts with you about this year and about Emmanuel College.
We have a new principal! The Rev. Dr. HyeRan Kim-Cragg will move into this role on July 1. With her own deep roots in the Christian tradition but a deep commitment to the multi-religious theological education found at Emmanuel College, she brings so much to the position. As the current graduate degree director of Emmanuel College and the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church Professor of Preaching, she knows both Emmanuel College and the Toronto School of Theology well. She is, significantly, the first racialized person to serve as principal of Emmanuel College.
At Emmanuel, as elsewhere, the pandemic affected life in many ways. For the second consecutive year, all Emmanuel classes were taught online. It is hard to contemplate the fact, though it is real, that we have had students who have completed two years of a theological program without ever having seen the inside of a classroom at Emmanuel. Every faculty meeting this year, apart from a brief one at the end of August, happened via Zoom. We were able to have a face-to-face Convocation this spring, our first since 2019, Convocation week events being the first and only occasion during my year as interim principal when significant numbers of students were on campus. The plan for this fall is to be able to return to in-person
Emmanuel’s faculty is in the midst of one of those generational changes that happens from time to time in a theological school. More than one-half of the faculty who were teaching at Emmanuel in 2016 will have retired by the end of the summer of 2023. That change represents the loss of much institutional memory and the departure of familiar figures who contributed so much to Emmanuel over the past three plus decades. At the same time, that change has enabled Emmanuel to develop what is, arguably, the most diverse faculty of any Canadian theological school, and a faculty whose racial make-up reflects the realities of contemporary Canada. It is a faculty from whom I have learned much in more areas than I can name in this piece. That said, some of my greatest learning has been in the areas of racism and colonialism and the effects, theologically and systemically, of these phenomena that are so deeply embedded in our society and our past. In thinking about what I have learned, I am especially mindful of a quote from Nikki Sanchez that a student shared with me recently: “This history is not your fault, but it is absolutely your responsibility.”
Speaking of faculty, a key priority for Emmanuel in the coming year needs to be determining the shape of its faculty complement going forward. As of the summer of 2023, Emmanuel will have three faculty positions that are either vacant or filled by persons in contractually limited appointments. The College needs to decide with what academic specializations it wants to fill those positions. Does it hire “like for like,” or does it use one or more of those positions to address a different need? This decision is a critical one for the College.
I have been touched by the generosity of some alumni/ae and friends of the College who have given to it in varied ways during this year. Being in the office and doing thank you letters makes you aware of all the support that comes from outside the College’s walls.
I would be remiss not to mention the grace-filled support I have received from staff, faculty, and students this year. As an outsider to Emmanuel, I arrived with much to learn. The community has been supportive and kind during this year, not least in forgiving my mistakes. I owe particular thanks to former principal, Michelle Voss Roberts, whose “onboarding” of me, via both a handbook she prepared and regular meetings during my first six weeks on the job, set me up to serve as well as possible.
It has been a year that has given me a chance to meet, albeit remotely, students of varying ages who are at the College in pursuit of a dream, to work with staff and faculty who give their best day in and day out, and to connect with alumni/ae and friends who continue in many and varied ways to contribute to Emmanuel’s well-being. The invitation to come here as interim principal was an unexpected happening in my life, but it has led to a year for which I shall always be grateful.
John H. Young