You know the storyline: High-flying CEO today, unemployed nobody tomorrow -- summarily whizzed by board of directors after institutional investors carp about company's moribund stock price. Unwanted, you find a desk in some faceless outplacement agency: three tedious flights up, four thin walls, a bad reproduction of Monet and a cellphone that never rings.
Unless, of course, you happen to know John Fraser, the genial master of the University of Toronto's Massey College, and papal bestower of benefices on those deemed deserving.
There, among Massey College's verdant, cloistered groves, the newly retired can mingle with scholars from diverse disciplines, regale the next generation with tales of former glory, enjoy high tea at low tables, lunch at high table in Ondaatje Hall (named for senior fellow and benefactor Christopher Ondaatje) or while away an afternoon in the library.
If you must be forcibly retired or otherwise unengaged, what could be better than the intellectual camaraderie of a university common room?
Preston Manning -- remember him, the former leader of the Reform Party? -- is one such initiate. At Massey, he's called a senior resident, though in the interests of accuracy, he's technically the Dean's distinguished visitor and just keeps an office at Massey. His political career over, Manning spent a semester last year teaching a course in political science at the University of Toronto and otherwise inhaling Massey's cerebral airs.
Manning is full of praise for the Massey method. ''It mixes together people of different disciplines, from different parts of the country and different countries even," he said the other day. ''The junior fellows [graduate students]are all quite bright.'' How about Moses Znaimer? Surely you remember him -- the messianic, disembodied voice of television, unceremoniously escorted this spring to the border crossing of the very empire he largely built and given his exit visa. He's also a Fraser beneficiary -- a visiting senior fellow. It's more than a visit, though. He's there for a year, or more, if Znaimer's reviews are favourable.
''We'll see how he does," Fraser says.
Ken Whyte is another recent member of the consulting (i.e. unemployed) fraternity, involuntarily exiled from his seat as editor of The National Post.
He's an associate senior fellow at Massey and a summer resident, renting an office at Massey while he mulls his career options.
Founded in 1962 as an independent graduate student college within the U of T, Massey's indulgences have always been ecumenical and essentially apolitical. Former Ontario premier Bob Rae (NDP), now practising law at Goodman Phillips & Vineberg and teaching labour law at the U of T law school, still keeps an office here. He bears two Massey titles, senior resident and senior fellow/corporation. Fraser called Rae to invite him in out of the rain the day he lost the 1995 provincial election to Mike Harris. John Sewell, another left-winger, is here, too (Quadrangle Society member).
But so is William Thorsell, CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum and an enthusiastic Conservative; both he and York University Chancellor Avie Bennett, a noted Liberal, are senior associate fellows. And the late Pierre Trudeau was a senior visiting fellow as well.
The range of Massey titles, Fraser concedes, is more complicated than the Vatican's hierarchy, while the privileges and responsibilities that go with them seem equally opaque. Students, resident or not, are called junior fellows. There are five categories of senior fellows, all of whom are elected. These include senior fellows/corporation -- effectively the college's board of directors -- senior fellows emeriti, continuing senior fellows, associate senior fellows and one Honorary Senior Fellow -- Prince Phillip, though he doesn't hang around the Common Room much.
Then there are senior residents, 23 last term, who are typically visiting scholars or professionals. Some teach; some don't. Their only Massey mandate is ''to participate in college life.''
The 167-member Quadrangle Society, which Fraser founded, is essentially a collection of interesting non-academics who are invited to attend various forums, symposiums and lectures. A QSer has no set responsibilities at all, but is meant to help build an intellectual bridge between campus and community.
''It's a very good place to socialize," says writer Ernest Hillen, a charter member. ''A lot of interesting people show up. It's a little like a club. You put your drinks on a tab and pay dues, only the dues are whatever you want to pay. But I sometimes have the feeling when I'm there that there can't be many spots in the country as interesting."
And there's a scholars-at-risk program, co-administered by the University of Toronto and in conjunction with PEN Canada. Iranian poet Reza Baraheni, Ethiopian teacher Mulatu Mekonnen, Ethiopian journalist Martha Kumsa, and Ihsan Alariqui, a Yemeni professor of Greek and classical European philosophy, are among those who have been welcomed.
Ostensibly, admission to Massey's nomenklatura is conferred by committee, and Fraser must ultimately answer to Bob Rae and the 25 other senior fellows/corporation. But it's safe bet that Master Fraser's opinion carries the greatest weight. Fortunately, he has a generous soul. One day he bumped into former Globe and Mail publisher Roger Parkinson on the street; the next, he was granting him dining privileges. When the late Mordecai Richler was a writer-in-residence at Trinity College a few years ago, Fraser -- the author's former editor at Saturday Night -- invited him to hang around the campus. The last cigar Richler smoked there is now proudly on display in the common room.
In fact, Fraser may be generous to a fault. A ceiling of 100 members was originally envisaged for the Quadrangle Society; there are almost 170 today, mostly because Fraser can't seem to resist a lively mind -- or a potential donor. Indeed, because Massey derives most of its funding from foundations, gifts and endowments, there's a tacit understanding that election to a Massey honour may involve some future financial obligation.
The long-running journalism fellowship program, once sponsored by the Southam newspaper chain, was at risk of extinction this year after the Asper family decided not to continue funding. At lunch one day, Fraser mentioned the crisis to philanthropist Shira Herzog; she immediately pledged that the Kahanoff Foundation, which she runs, would sponsor one fellow. Fraser then leveraged her commitment into others, and the journalism program was saved. He's now seeking to build an endowment of $4.5-million to stabilize its future financing.
Sprinkled throughout the various categories are Jews and gentiles, rabbis and priests, blacks and whites, judges (the Hon. Patrick Lesage, senior resident) and journalists (Ron Graham, Quadrangle), actors (R. H. Thomson, Quadrangle) and authors (Margaret Atwood, associate senior fellow), publishers (Douglas Gibson, Quadrangle) and psychiatrists (Vivian Rakoff, associate senior fellow), businessmen (U of T Chancellor The Hon. Hal Jackman, associate senior fellow) and broadcasters (Robert Rabinovitch, Quadrangle).
Writer Ken Wiwa was a senior resident last year, as were Dr. James Orbinksi, a founder of Médecin Sans Frontières, and National Arts centre administrator Peter Herrndorf and journalist Geoffrey Stevens. Sharing an office with Bob Rae, Stevens finished a biography of the late Dalton Camp. He says Fraser identifies with talented people who have lost their jobs.
Fraser himself, a former Globe and Mail arts critic and China correspondent, lost his job as editor of Saturday Night and became Massey's Master in 1995. The college, he notes, is largely independent of the University of Toronto, although most of its population consists of full-time graduate students. Some 120 are chosen annually from more than 400 applications. The elaborate election process, he says, attempts to distribute honours by discipline (humanities, sciences, professions), gender and geography. Fraser is Massey's fifth Master, after Roberston Davies (1963-1981), J. N. Patterson Hume (1981-88) and Ann Saddlemyer (1988-95).
Although he fully grasps the comic dimension of Massey as retirement farm, Fraser insists the program fulfills the mandate originally laid down for the college: to bring the academic and non-academic worlds together. Virtually everyone, he insists, pays rent for their offices, though some are given carrels in Massey's basement, a dark and somewhat gloomy place.
And, to be fair, the intellectual wattage generated by an average assembly of Quadrangulites is impressive. For those seeking temporary shelter from storms, Massey offers clean (if not so well lit) offices and residences -- a comfortable arena to joust with ideas and make new friends. So if your board of directors suddenly asks you to pack your electronic rolodex, make sure it includes John Fraser's number.