University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

History of Innis

Innis College: Humble Beginnings

by Roger Riendeau, Vice-Principal, Innis College

To say that the beginnings of Innis College were humble, as the title of this presentation suggests, is truly an understatement. Neglected, short-changed, and diminished are words that come to mind. But “humble” is more polite and politically correct for this golden celebration of Innis College’s rise to prominence at the University of Toronto.

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Innis College was born with great expectations, an outgrowth of the post-war “baby boom”; indeed, the majority of students who enrolled at Innis College in its first year of existence were born in 1945, the year that World War II ended. As early as 1954, U of T President Sidney Smith warned that the rapidly rising high school enrolment would soon have a profound impact university enrolment, which the residential facilities of the existing four colleges on the St. George campus did not have the capacity to accommodate. Estimating a growth in enrolment from about 12,000 to upwards of 25,000, a University committee in June 1956 recommended “establishing two new colleges on the [St. George] campus, each to be the nucleus of residences to accommodate 500 students.” As a an alternative to the college residential system, another University committee proposed the construction of six buildings of eight to ten storeys in height to be located in the block bounded by Willcocks Street, Huron Street, Harbord Street, and Spadina Avenue to accommodate students from all faculties within the University.

Fortunately, Professor Claude Bissell, an alumnus of University College who served as President of the University of Toronto from 1958 to 1971 was one of the strongest advocates of the college system: “Residence had always been considered part of the academic life of the colleges. I was determined to fight the proposals for faceless dormitories.” He was able to solidify support for the college system by recommending that the new colleges would be multifaculty in nature, housing students not just from the Faculty of Arts and Science but also the growing professional faculties. The proposal to create two new multi-faculty colleges was approved by the University’s Board of Governors in October 1961, and New College opened its doors to undergraduates in September 1962. On 2 October 1963, President Bissell appointed a committee “to begin the planning for a second `new’ college.” To serve as Chairman of the Committee on “Newer” College, President Bissell called upon Robin S. Harris, Professor of English who was then Acting Principal of University College.

In November 1963, the Newer College Committee recommended to President Bissell a plan to integrate it into the substantial New College complex, the first phase of which was nearing completion, and suggested its preference for three names: Baldwin College, Edward Blake College, and Innis College. Also considered was a proposal to name the new college in honour of Robert Falconer, the fourth President of the University who served from 1907 to 1932. Accordingly, on 23 January 1964 the University`s Board of Governors approved the establishment of a second new college. Not surprisingly, Robin Harris was appointed the college`s first principal. And in somewhat of a surprise, the college was named after the late Harold Adams Innis, a renowned University of Toronto political economist and a pioneer of communication studies. The Governors decided that the name Falconer was already on two of the current buildings, and they were influenced by Vincent Massey, the first Canadian-born Governor-General of Canada (from 1952 to 1959), to name the college after Innis, making it the first and only one at the University to be named after a scholar.

Harold Innis

Principal Harris immediately appointed Professor Geoffrey S. Payzant of the Department of Philosophy to serve as Registrar. Principal Harris told President Bissell that “the Registrar of Innis College will in effect be its Vice-Principal, and his responsibility will be correspondingly large.” Together, the two “founders” assumed their administrative offices after July 1 in a pre-fabricated one-storey building constructed in the late 1940s as a temporary bookstore. Eric Arthur of the School of Architecture complained about this modest, box-like structure “butchering” the lawn beside the old observatory in Hart House Circle. But Principal Harris and Registrar Payzant were optimistic that the University would soon provide more ample and suitable quarters in which to house a multidisciplinary academic program.

Innis College

With an inadequate academic building, no residence, no academic program, and only three admission scholarships of $350, Innis College offered little inducement to prospective undergraduates compared to the more established colleges. So, admission to the College in its inaugural year was restricted to “freshmen” students. As Principal Harris explained, “Innis College is a new venture and it is perhaps as well that we should all start from scratch.” This reality prompted Principal Harris to introduce an “innovation” known as the Writing Laboratory, which had the distinction of being not only the first academic offering of Innis College but also the first academic support service of its kind not just at the University of Toronto but at any Canadian university. David King was hired to provide direction for the Writing Laboratory and in 1967 succeed Professor Payzant to become the College’s second Registrar.

David King

Innis College opened its doors to 278 students who registered on September 16 and who started their classes on September 23. The “freshman” status of these “pioneering” students did deter them from responding vigorously to the challenge of shaping the character and style of Innis College. Principal Harris noted in his first annual report: “the freshmen themselves were forced to organize themselves; to decide how their society should be governed; to work with a freshman principal, a freshman registrar and a freshman council on the problem of what kind of college Innis should be.”

The seeds of the Innis College Student Society (ICSS) were sown only a week after classes had started. On 29 September, Innis students were invited to discuss the formation of a student organization with the newly-hired Administrative Assistant, Mary Pat McMahon, a recent graduate of St. Michael’s College, who performed the roles of Assistant Registrar, Dean of Men and Women, and Student Affairs Counsellor. A committee was struck to serve as an interim Executive and to draft a constitution for the ICSS that was ratified by the student body on October 26 and by Innis Council the following day. The first ICSS election was held on November 3 with the late John Bayly being elected President and Robert Patrick, Vice President.

The ICSS did not have a direct voice in the governance of Innis College. Indeed, at the time, student participation or representation in University governance was little more than a pipedream associated with the student radicalism fomenting at the University of California at Berkeley and showing signs of spreading to other university campuses in North America and Western Europe. With Innis comprised exclusively of first-year students in 1964-65, the prospect of student participation in College governance seemed even more unrealistic. Innis College Council, consisting of fifteen faculty members (including a young Professor Peter Russell) selected by the President in consultation with the Principal initially invited the President of the ICSS to report on matters pertinent to student affairs. The idea of regular student attendance, let alone voting, was not even contemplated. As the year progressed, however, Innis showed its tendency to be unlike the other colleges or divisions with respect to the role of students in College governance. In January 1965, by mutual agreement with the ICSS, College Council established the Staff-Student Committee to serve as a liaison between Council and the ICSS. The Committee, composed of three representatives of Council and three from the ICSS, effectively became a sub-committee of Council, presenting a report at each regular meeting. It soon became traditional for the Staff-Student Committee report to be presented to Council by a student, usually the President of the ICSS, who would be asked to remain at the meeting if other matters which bore directly upon student affairs were to be discussed. Indirectly, then, the seeds of student-staff “parity” were sown early in the life of Innis College.

Another expression of the Innis student voice was “The Paper,” the first issue of which was published on 12 January 1965. The inaugural four issues of the Innis student newspaper were modest in appearance, consisting of a few single sided, double columned, legal-sized pages reproduced by a “Gestetner” machine (prominent before the age of photocopying) and stapled together in the top left-hand corner. Robert Patrick will tell the story of how he won the “Name the Paper” contest for cleverly suggesting The Innis Herald as the new name of the College newspaper.

Robin Harris_College Plans

As student enrolment increased to 400 in the second year (1965-66) and 685 in the third year (1966-67), it became apparent that the College’s a one-storey building amounting to less than 5,000 square feet could not accommodate a nearly 250% growth rate. But Principal Harris and Registrar Payzant could take comfort in the University’s big plans for Innis College which as early as February 1965 envisioned an academic building of at least four storeys to accommodate an eventual enrolment of 2,000 and an adjoining residential complex of two eight storeys to accommodate over 550 students. Indeed, Innis was expecting no more and no less than the physical resources that the University was in the process of bestowing upon New College. By January 1966, the University decided that such a massive complex located in the same block as New College was not feasible, so Innis was given its own building site – the north side of Sussex Avenue between St. George and Huron streets. The appointment of Hart Massey, son of Vincent and one of Canada’s leading architect, to design Innis College was hailed as a sign that the University of Toronto was truly serious about providing a formidable building.

In developing user plans for its new state of the art building, the Innis administration once again resorted to the outrageous by insisting that students serve on the Building Committee. The valuable contributions of these students to the planning process opened the way for the even more outrageous idea that students should be given a voice in College governance. By April 1967, Innis College Council had drafted and approved its first constitution under the terms of the University of Toronto Act. The new constitution, which included a provision for five student representation and three administrative representatives on the 25-member Council, was authorized by the Board of Governors in July 1967 and was implemented in September 1967, the first occasion when students at the University of Toronto became full members of a governing council. The unique brand of Innis College democracy would culminate three years later in the implementation of the first and still only parity governance structure at the University of Toronto.

Meanwhile, bursting at the seams with an enrolment of over 700, the College moved into larger quarters at 63 St. George Street in 1968. The move was timely because the College’s nascent academic program would be bolstered by the launch of its first four credit courses in September 1969. But it soon became clear that the move to 63 St. George would not be so “temporary” as promised when the award-winning Massey plans for Innis College began to unravel because of a sudden cutback in federal and provincial government funding. When the whole plan was shelved in 1970, the Innis College community felt betrayed. Much of the supposed “radicalism” of the College in the 1970s stemmed from this feeling of betrayal, but that is a story for another time.

Out of its humble beginnings, the Innis College community realized that it would have to rely continually on its innovative and resourceful spirit to survive and thrive in the face of limited resources. Its success in overcoming its humble beginnings is evident all around us and reflected in this special 50th anniversary celebration.