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A Tribute to Dean Julia O’Sullivan

By Steve Robinson

May 27, 2015


A Tribute to OISE Dean Julia O'Sullivan, May 25, 2015

On Monday, May 25, 2015, at an event organized by OISE alumni, faculty, students, staff, and several distinguished guests gathered in Toronto to pay tribute to Dean Julia O’Sullivan, one of the institute’s most influential and accomplished leaders, who will be leaving the dean’s position as of June 30.

The tribute took place at the Roof Salon at Toronto’s Park Hyatt among a who's who of Canada's education leadership including colleagues from other universities (Dr. Alice Pitt, Vice-Provost, York University); educational organizations (Akela Peoples, President and CEO of The Learning Partnership); local school boards (Dr. Donna Quan, Director of Education, Toronto District School Board); and the private sector.

Dean O’Sullivan, or “Dean Julia” as she became known to many – joined OISE in July 2010 with a five-year mandate to engage the OISE community in transformation and renewal. Early in her tenure, Dean O’Sullivan oversaw the successful reorganization of the institute’s academic departments as well as the creation of a comprehensive strategic plan.

Part of the transformation of OISE involved phasing out the institute’s Bachelor of Education program and focusing on graduate education. As a result, in May 2014, Dean O’Sullivan announced that OISE would, in 2015, become an all-graduate institute of teaching, learning and research, the only institute of its kind in Canada. She understood well OISE’s unique position as Canada’s leading institute of education and stressed OISE’s “responsibility to lead”.

Dr. Pat Rogers, Associate Vice-President of Teaching and Learning at Wilfred Laurier University, in a letter to Dean O’Sullivan, called the decision to become all graduate "a fearless and brilliant move". Dr. Jeanne Watson, OISE's Associate Dean of Programs and Master of Ceremonies at the event, said the decision set OISE on a "course to maintain its status as a leading faculty of education in the world". In a congratulatory letter, Dr. Blye Frank, President of the Association of Canadian Deans of Education, praised Dean O’Sullivan’s visionary leadership.

Among her most influential accomplishments, Dean O'Sullivan negotiated a $5-million gift to support the institute's new Indigenous Education Initiative and attracted Chief Shawn Atleo, who was in attendance, to be the first William A. Macdonald Q.C. Distinguished Fellow in Indigenous Education at OISE.

Dean O’Sullivan has earned an international reputation for her commitment to and record in Aboriginal education. Before coming to OISE, Dean O’Sullivan established the first department of Aboriginal education within a Canadian faculty of education at Lakehead University. She is the founding National Director of the Centre for Excellence for Children and Adolescents with Special Needs focused on Northern and Aboriginal children.

“What a record you have compiled! The debt you are owed by all of us who are interested in Indigenous education is legendary”, said former Prime Minister, The Right Honourable Paul Martin, who was unable to attend the event but sent a letter of congratulations. Dean O’Sullivan serves as the Chief Advisor to Martin’s Aboriginal Education Initiative’s Wiiji Kakendaasodaa project.

Dean O’Sullivan’s research has attracted close to $8 million in external funding and has led to the publication of more than 100 scholarly and professional papers and presentations. Her work has been published in English, French, Inuktitut and Ojibwa. Her work is focused on teaching and learning reading with young children, especially those disadvantaged in school.

Dean O’Sullivan thanked the current and past Presidents and Provosts of the University of Toronto for their unwavering support for the changes at OISE, and she lauded her close academic team and staff for their commitment and courage and for putting the interests of students and the institute ahead of their own.

"Dean Julia" closed the evening with a loving acknowledgment to her two sons, Galen and Reilly. It was a fitting tribute to an influential scholar and dynamic leader.