What does Toope Lion mean for Cambridge?The Syrup Trap

Until yesterday, the name ‘Stephen Toope’ meant nothing to most University of Cambridge students. For many, it probably still doesn’t. But from October 2017 he will be taking over the most important position in the University, the Vice-Chancellorship. So Varsity went to find out: Who is Stephen Toope?

It turns out, he’s quite an interesting guy.

In academic circles he is an experienced and well travelled legal scholar, human rights advocate, and administrator, described by Madam Justice Rosalie Abeela of the Supreme Court of Canada as “a rare combination of somebody who is brilliant, human, considerate, and fearless”. But to students at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where he was President between 2006 and 2014, he is the theatrical, fun loving, affectionately named ‘Toope Lion’.

Here are the key facts you need to know about Cambridge’s next VC.

He’s a Thesp

Speaking to our Canadian bureau, Varsity learned that Toope is well known for ‘theatricality’. Perhaps he picked up the dramatic touch while studying as an undergraduate at Harvard, where, according to a review of a production of War and Peace in the Crimson, our future VC “handle[d] the young bumbling Pierre, an aristocrat who cannot seem to find his niche in life, with just the right touch of humor.” Might we soon see him treading the boards at the ADC?

Toope may have given up on his acting dreams, but his lust for the stage has never left him. In 2011 he performed a duet with the president of UBC’s student union, covering the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’ for UBC’s Got Talent.

Will we be seeing singalongs appear in the University Reporter?

When Toope resigned his position at UBC in 2014 to become the Director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, satirical publication Syrup Trap suggested that he was planning to go on a “spiritual and musical journey” involving a recording career and an international tour.

He’s not afraid to stand his ground

Toope’s student experience wasn’t all fun and games. While studying at McGill – where he earned degrees in Common and Civil Law and was later the youngest ever dean of the Law faculty – he edited student publication The McGill Law Journal.

McGill Law professor Rod Macdonald remembers Toope running an article defending a Supreme Court Justice’s public comments in support of the inclusion of natives in the new Charter of Rights. Another Justice – Bora Laskin – felt that the article should not run, and called up the journal. But, according to Macdonald, “Stephen told a Supreme Court Justice to take a hike”, and ran the piece.

He means business

Toope has had a distinguished career as a legal scholar and has also worked with the UN, chairing a working group on enforced and involuntary disappearances, as well as observing the first free elections in South Africa.

For his own national government he worked on an inquiry into the actions of Canadian officials in the disappearance of Maher Arar, a Syrian-Canadian who was held in solitary confinement by the United States, who then deported him to Syria. In 2005, Toope released a report saying that he believed Arar had been tortured while in Syria.

Toope focused on undergraduate experience at UBC University of Cambridge

VC’s treats: a few of Stephen’s favourite things

  • Leonard Cohen
  • Cycling
  • Classical music
  • Hiking
  • Finding Neverland

He loves student engagement

From day one at UBC, Toope emphasised improving the undergraduate experience. “When I came to UBC I was quite convinced that major research intensive universities in Canada and elsewhere had begun to lose the plot a little bit on undergraduate education” he commented.

Toope appointed a Vice-President for students, putting all non-academic student services into one portfolio. He also encouraged broad-based admissions, trying to shake off UBC’s reputation as a degree factory, noting that “if you come to school and it’s just going to a bunch of classes and you’re just getting through so that you can do something after, I would see that as a failure”.

Between 2006 and 2011, UBC’s National Survey of Student Engagement ranking improved across all five benchmarks.

He’s pretty pro-free speech

On campus free speech, Toope has adopted a nuanced perspective, arguing on the one hand that “for a university, anything that detracts from the free expression of ideas is just not acceptable”, while noting that a line has been crossed when speech is designed to preclude any speech in response.

“Forms of speech should not be banned simply on the grounds that they are ‘offensive’”, wrote Toope; however, he also believes that  “When there are very strongly held opinions and displays that some people might see as inflammatory, we try to ensure that people are not being forced into position where they’re dealing with issues that are really troubling to them.”

When details of anti-consent chants within an undergraduate society at UBC emerged, Toope asked for a working group to be established to look at the whole question of sexualisation of violence.

He hates Twitter

Toope might be big on engagement, but he’s not particularly fond of Twitter. In 2013, he told The Ubyssey, UBC’s student paper: “I despise Twitter, truthfully”, saying he thought it is “one of the worst things that’s been created in my lifetime”. He said “I think that the notion of the immediate reaction to something without reflection...[is] the worst of our society”.

He’s got meme status

All in all, Toope Lion’s resume  is an impressive one. With a record of both competence and character, Cambridge students will undoubtedly warm to him quickly. Although it remains to be seen whether he can reach this level of love again:

We’re not entirely sure, either