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A survey was sent to students, staff and alumni last month to gather input on a new name for the university.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

Ryerson University will not hold a public discussion about possible options for its renaming. Instead, the Toronto postsecondary institution will be guided primarily by a survey of public opinion and the recommendations of a committee.

The university announced in August that it would change its name after protests that linked its namesake, 19-century educational reformer Egerton Ryerson, with the design of the residential-school system in Canada.

Last month, a survey was sent to students, staff and alumni to gather input on a new name for the university. More than 20,000 responses were submitted over a three-week period via the university’s website.

The university said it was pleased with the number of responses, even though it represents only about half the number of students currently enrolled and a fraction of the alumni, staff and other community members connected to the university.

The data from the survey will now be analyzed by research firm the Strategic Counsel, and then given to a 15-person committee selected by the university. The committee will then generate a shortlist of approximately three to five names for university president Mohamed Lachemi.

The shortlist will not be made public, nor is there any plan to have the options discussed in a public forum. A branding agency will be hired to consult on the possible choices, though one has not yet been selected, the university said.

Dr. Lachemi will select a name from the shortlist and bring his recommendation before a meeting of the university’s board of governors for approval. The new name is expected to be confirmed by the board before the end of the academic year in April.

Jennifer Simpson, Ryerson’s provost and the chair of the renaming committee, said she believes the university has already received significant public input via the survey. She said the committee, which includes students, faculty and alumni, will now have the difficult job of interpreting the wishes of the community and proposing a path forward.

“The opportunity in front of us is to find a name that represents the university as a whole,” Dr. Simpson said. “The goal is to ensure that the shortlist of names that the committee lands on has strong alignment with the university’s values and aspirations.”

The survey asked whether respondents preferred the university be named for a notable historical figure, a geographic location or a principle or aspiration connected to the university’s mission.

If it was named for a location, two of the obvious candidates, Toronto or Ontario, are already in use by the University of Toronto and Ontario Tech University. But the survey also points to the possibility of using the name of a neighbourhood, an Indigenous traditional territory or an environmental landmark.

It also asks whether respondents would like to see the university named for one of its stated values – referenced in phrases such as “unapologetically bold,” “intentionally diverse” and “respectfully collaborative” – or for an institutional strength such as “serving societal need,” “preparing students for careers” and “embracing city-building.”

The survey includes several pages of demographic questions, such as a person’s age, gender identity, sexuality and whether they belong to an Indigenous group or a visible minority.

Dr. Simpson said no group will receive more consideration than another, and that includes students, alumni and staff. It also means there is no special consideration for the wishes of Indigenous students, who led the way in the campaign to have the university name changed, although they are represented on the renaming committee. She said what Ryerson is doing is part of a process of reconciliation the whole country will have to confront.

“It’s not a simple question. It’s not a simple process. Universities at their best are places where there’s a rich conversation, dialogue, disagreements,” Dr. Simpson said.

The Ryerson name was selected by the school’s founding principal in 1948 because it conferred instant credibility, in his view. The school, located in downtown Toronto, later became a polytechnic and eventually a university. A committee decided earlier this year that Mr. Ryerson’s legacy no longer aligns with the university’s values.

The old name is still plastered on buildings and billboards on the university’s downtown campus and its bookstore shelves are still stocked with Ryerson mugs and T-shirts. But that will change in a matter of months.

Sam Howden, an Indigenous social-work grad student and one of the leaders of the campus protest movement that referred to Ryerson only as “X” University, said the renaming process is flawed. Many of the survey questions read like a marketing strategy, they said.

“They’re trying to speed this through. Essentially, they want to bend the narrative toward something they can control. … Like, ‘Look at us, we did reconciliation.’ ”

Ryerson alumnus Rodney Yip worked in business for more than 30 years, seeing many name changes and rebranding processes over that time. Ryerson should avoid tying itself to a location or to the name of a historic figure, he said. The new name should try to capture Ryerson’s reputation for preparing students for a career, he added, as well as its diverse campus community of students and faculty.

“Names change,” Mr. Yip said. “I think we should find a name that reflects our core values and our vision.”

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