President Naylor sat down with the newspaper in his Simcoe Hall office to talk about his road to the President's office.
"It was an absolutely typical small-town childhood. Woodstock, Ontario. About 19,000 souls and a household where the main memories I have are of books,” Naylor starts. “Specifically, my parents did not allow a t.v. in the house until 1967 when the Leafs were in the Stanley Cup play-offs."
In the summers before attending University, Naylor worked the typical small-town jobs: schlepping boxes at a curtain rod factory, working the golf course, and picking tobacco.
“It was politically incorrect, but quite a lucrative way to work in the summer,” Naylor confesses, not breaking eye contact. “You had to get up at dawn and drive to be in the field as the sun rose. A friend of mine had done it the previous summer. He had a car. He would pick me up. I would stumble out of the house. It's still semi-dark outside. We'd drive along to the farm and away we'd go, driven out to the fields on the back of a tractor and…we'd just motor through the fields, pulling leaves off the plants...All the sunshine you could eat.”
An unexceptional student with spotty attendance and a rock band to distract him from school work, Naylor only paid attention to his grades towards the end of high school, when he realized his academics would need to improve to enter U of T.
At U of T, Naylor remembers feeling intimidated: “As an undergrad, my aspiration was to avoid getting run over by all the smart people.” Academics became a priority during his two years at University College, as he aimed to enter either med school, law school, or grad school. Once in med school, Naylor's extracurriculars kept him out of class for the first few years, but by fourth year, he was intent on becoming a doctor. “I thought about neurosurgery believe it or not, until I realized I was a klutz.”
Since graduating from med school, Naylor has accrued an impressive curriculum vitae: after U of T, he studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; he has co-authored 300 scholarly publications; he was chair of the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health; he was Dean of Medicine and Vice Provost at U of T; he was appointed President of U of T in 2005; and was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada in 2006.
It's interesting to note that during Naylor's student days at U of T, then President John Robert Evans holds much in common with our current President. Both were U of T undergrads, both were Rhodes Scholars, both were medical doctors by profession. Asked if he consciously followed in Evans' footsteps, Naylor admits, “to my embarrassment, yes.”
We switch gears to Naylor's impact as President: “The large part of what you do as President is you set a general direction, try to raise the resources, and take the heat. That's just the reality – heat rises and credit should be refused.”
And Naylor has faced much criticism on his strategic vision for U of T's future, including Flat Fees, Towards 2030, and questions of ethics surrounding U of T's investments.
As Dean of Medicine, Naylor was caught in the middle of the Dr. David Healy case. Healy was offered a job with CAMH and U of T in 2000. Months after being hired, Healy delivered a lecture critical of Prozac's increased risk of suicide; soon after, Healy's contract was rescinded. The move raised questions about the relationship between the university and companies, like Prozac's manufacturer Eli Lilly, that invest in U of T.
There is complete silence while Naylor pauses to reflect before answering to his involvement in the case. Naylor distances himself as a secondary actor in the Healy affair, “I regret any disputes that are acrimonious to his life, but I am not sure looking back how easily we could have played that one differently.”
Naylor goes on to express optimism about the future. Despite losing over $545 million in endowment funds at end of 2009 fiscal year, Naylor says, “it's a small blip; it may be a long-term recovery, but we will recover.” Naylor quotes that fundraising has doubled from $80 million to over $160 million and that admission numbers are also up. “Despite the concerns about the Flat Fees dispute, students are still applying to U of T as their first choice.”
Looking toward 2015, Naylor hopes to complete the graduate expansion, increase student space, and build better facilities. “We really have had a massive shift with graduate expansion underway primarily on the St. George campus...It is this kind of bimodal universe that we struggle to reconcile when I think the corollary is that as we expand, we have to be very careful that we don't erode undergraduate student experience.”
After sharing his life story with the newspaper, arguably a meteoric rise from picking tobacco to shaping our university's future, Naylor eschews the spotlight. “I'm just the old guy in this office who's trying to set a general direction and find some money.”