The University of Guelph has named Franco Vaccarino as its next president, choosing a neuroscientist known for his role as a builder at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.
Dr. Vaccarino will assume his new job on Aug. 15, leaving as principal of U of T Scarborough to succeed outgoing president Alastair Summerlee, who has led Guelph since 2003.
After a year-long search inside and outside academia, in Canada and abroad, the university chose Dr. Vaccarino for his “breadth and depth of character and capacity,” said the chair of the university’s board, Dick Freeborough.
Dr. Vaccarino has academic bona fides in psychology, led a major expansion of U of T’s Scarborough footprint, and has worked with organizations such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Dr. Vaccarino will take over a university with more than 25,000 students and well-known strengths in fields such as agriculture and the environment. It has been among Canada’s leaders in exploring new ways of teaching and learning, but it is also aiming to close a multimillion-dollar funding shortfall in the coming years through a major review of all its programs.
“I think this is one of the most exciting periods certainly in recent history in terms of the developments of the postsecondary sector,” Dr. Vaccarino said in an interview, noting that new ideas “are coming forward that are challenging traditional boundaries.”
In keeping with most newly appointed presidents, he declined to discuss detailed plans, promising “to listen” first, but he said he is “very excited, very energized.”
Among his peers, Dr. Vaccarino is widely seen as a visionary, capable of getting institutions “to think big,” University of Toronto president Meric Gertler said.
“I think he has also been really effective at raising spirits and morale [at U of T Scarborough] and making this important campus feel better and better about itself and what it’s able to achieve,” he said.
Dr. Vaccarino earned his bachelor’s degree at U of T, and launched his career as a professor at its Scarborough campus in 1984, later serving as the university’s head of neuroscience. He also worked outside the university as a vice-president at both CAMH and the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry.
He was named U of T Scarborough’s principal in 2007, and was reappointed in 2012. In that time, he led a rapid campus expansion, hiring dozens of faculty members, developing new programs and building new infrastructure, including an aquatics facility to be used during the 2015 Pan American Games.
“You put all that together, it satisfied a couple of our key characteristics [we were seeking],” Mr. Freeborough said.