A Message from the Principal, September 2017

To Members and Fellows of Senior College:

The programs and good works of Senior College, built up and launched by our founding Principal Peter Russell, continue unabated as we start the Fall Term.

Our mainstay is the program of weekly seminar meetings, held at the Faculty Club, and embracing a wide range of topics. The Program Committee, led by Jim Gurd (scientist) and Linda Hutcheon (humanities), makes a determined effort to recruit seminar speakers who have done interesting work of general interest, and who are able to present talks that appeal to our multi-disciplinary assemblage. These meetings are open to all members of Senior College, and there is the option of lunch at the Faculty Club for those who are both physically and intellectually hungry. The Fall program can be found on the Senior College website, and a brief inspection will show you the range of topics. The website address is: seniorcollege.utoronto.ca

In tandem with this program, we have two other major forums for intellectual engagement: a series of monthly colloquia, designed to foster in-depth discussion of selected topics; and the annual one-day Symposium, built each year around an issue of high importance. This year, the topic selected for the annual Symposium is “Inequality”, and it will take place early in April 2018.

We also try to set up “field trips” each year to locations of interest, and on occasion to other countries. The most recent expedition (March 29th, 2017) was to the Centre for Applied Genomics, located in the Hospital for Sick Children’s new research building, the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning at 686 Bay Street (a very impressive example of today’s “big science” endeavours). This trip was initiated by Jim Gurd following a Senior College lecture by Steve Scherer (Director of the Centre) on genomics of autism spectrum disorder. Our tour group of 14 Senior College members was guided and instructed by Richard Wintle ( Assistant Director, Centre for Applied Genomics ). We were in turn guided to the machines (compact and expensive) that disassemble and report the composition of the genetic material, to roomfuls of analysts poring over the data spewing forth from the machines, and to a large room of computers, noisy in their labours, that enable the collection of results and the subsequent analysis of the enormous amount of information being generated. Some of us were inspired to send our genetic material (from collected drooled saliva) to “23 and Me” or one of the other companies set up for genetic analysis. Not infrequently, unknown relatives surfaced, and we were surprised to learn that about 2% of genes derived from the Neanderthals commonly show up in those with European ancestry. (My own sample was at the high end, about 3%, and I am trying to figure out which of my characteristics might be attributable to this ancient gift). We welcome suggestions for additional “field trips” for this academic year.

The above programs, and several other others, fulfill one of the objectives of Senior College: support and stimulation of ongoing scholarly and creative activities of retired faculty and librarians. We also support outreach activities, including University in the Community which mounts educational programs for community members who have not had the opportunity to attend university courses; sponsorship events; and a Speakers Bureau. These and other outreach activities contribute to another of our objectives: engagement with the community at large.

A more complete account of our activities and accomplishments over the past 9 years (since Senior College began) can now be accessed in a report by our retiring Principal, Peter Russell. His report, which is clearly and engagingly presented, will be installed on the Senior College website.

We hope to see retired faculty at our events, and we encourage applications for Fellow status, since this enterprise (one model for faculty and librarians who have retired ) will continue to succeed if we enrol new younger members who will join the Fellowship and keep up the momentum of the College.

With best regards,
Harold Atwood, Principal