After a year-long search, York University has chosen provost Rhonda Lenton, a senior administrator at the university with a PhD in sociology, as its new president and vice-chancellor.
Dr. Lenton is currently vice-president academic and provost and previously served as Dean of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies for seven years.
She begins her term on July 1, 2017 and succeeds Mamdouh Shoukri.
"I am honoured by this opportunity to lead York University," Dr. Lenton said. "York was founded on progressive values, and I will continue to foster diverse perspectives and improve access to high-quality postsecondary education."
She is herself the first in her family to attend university, she added.
Before moving into administration, Dr. Lenton researched family violence, feminist movements in academia and Internet dating. She said those early research interests have helped her work as an administrator.
"It is disappointing to me that 20 years later, we are still talking about assault on campus. But my research has helped me think about wellbeing in societies."
The choice is likely to prove controversial with some members of the university's community. On Tuesday, the York Cross-Campus Alliance, a group made up of unions representing faculty, staff and students, released a public letter that questioned the openness of the presidential search. The alliance asked the Board of Governors to not appoint anyone and restart the search with more input from some constituencies.
"A just but delayed recommendation is more preferable than a flawed one that meets its deadline," the letter said.
In a statement to The Globe and Mail prior to the announcement Tuesday, Rich Waugh, the chair of the search committee and of York's Board of Governors defended the process that led to Dr. Lenton's appointment.
"Extensive input was received in March, April and May (2016) through open sessions, via email, and in meetings with Faculty Councils, Senate, employee group leaders, student leaders, University officers, and the Board of Governors," he said in the statement.
Dr. Lenton said she is aware of the opposition and will work to build consensus.
"York is well known for embracing diversity and that includes diversity of opinion," she said.
Some of the opposition to Dr. Lenton may be testimony to the impact of a 2015 strike by teaching assistants and contract instructors which heightened tensions between faculty, graduate students and the administration. Dr. Lenton was a key spokesperson and a member of the university's negotiating team.
Dr. Shoukri, who will finish his tenth year as York University President in July, praised the choice.
"I know Dr. Lenton will continue our positive momentum of growth, academic excellence and incredible learning opportunities for our students, who are at the heart of every decision we make," he said in a statement.