University of Manitoba - University Governance - Thomas H.B. Symons, LL.D., May 29, 1990
Thomas H.B. Symons, LL.D., May 29, 1990
Thomas H. B. Symons
M.A., LL.D., F.R.S.C., O.C.

I have the honour to present Thomas H. B. Symons, M.A., LL.D., F.R.S.C., Officer of the Order of Canada.

As founding President of Trent University, as Chairman of the Commission on Canadian Studies, most recently as Vanier Professor and in numerous other roles and activities, Thomas Symons has provided distinguished leadership in Canadian education.

Born in Toronto, one of seven children of Harry and Dorothy Syrnons, Thomas Symons is a graduate of the Universily of Toronto and of Oxford, having also pursued independent studies in Europe.

In 1960, at the age of 31, Thomas Symons was named as President-designate and chairman of the Academic Planning Committee for what was to become Trent University. Focussing on undergraduate education and on teaching methods which recognized and valued the individual student, Trent University under Thomas Symons' leadership successfully reasserted the classic values of liberal education. Trent was at one and the same time traditional and innovative, conservative and progressive: it sought and achieved excellence in the traditional disciplines while breaking new ground in interdisciplinary areas like Canadian and environmental studies. Twenty-five years on, Trent remains a small university committed to a large enterprise. And of Trent, it may be said, that what Thomas Symons did not actually himself create, he substantially inspired.

Beyond the University with which his name will always be linked, Professor Symons played a signal role in a pre-eminent national educational issue of the 1970's and 1980's. Indeed, the notion of national existence and national values as matters of legitimate academic concern, owes much to Professor Symons' articulation of the legitimacy and importance of Canadian Studies. As Chairman of the Commission on Canadian Studies from 1972 to 1984 he effected a sea-change in academic attitudes: the Commission's Report, and the manner of his advocacy of it, injected a fundamentally new and important perspective into the general academic orientations of our universities. He argued that Canadian universities which saw no need or responsibility to study and understand Canada, could not expect others to do it for them; he enjoined Canadian universities to reconsider our roles, to acknowledge the significance of our own experience as a people, and to embrace the intellectual and institutional obligations to know ourselves.

It may be fairly said that the Symons Report has had influence far beyond those immediately concerned with Canadian Studies per se: Thomas Symons has now joined that select company whose work is known even to those who have never read it - surely a kind of academic apotheosis.

Thomas Symons has not been an educator or academic leader disengaged from the wider community. Indeed, he has epitomized what the late Professor Morton once described as the role of a university Chancellor, one "who is the chosen friend in the world, the well-disposed man who knows the university in all its idiosyncracies and needs, and who puts in an understanding word when it will do good..."

Professor Symons has advised government - and Opposition - on a range of educational and other issues; he has chaired the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Association in Support of the Native Peoples and an Ontario Ministerial Commission on French Language Education. He has served, chaired and, in some cases, founded ahost of organizations concerned with a wide range of educational and other public matters. His career has embodied the proposition that between service to education and public service there are no fixed or finite boundaries.

Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour and a personal pleasure for me to ask, in the name of the Senate of The University of Manitoba, that you confer on Thomas H. B. Symons, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

-citation delivered by Arnold Naimark, President, University of Manitoba.