The role of the President is defined in the York University Act, 1965. The President is appointed by the Board of Governors, after consultation with the Senate, and holds office during the pleasure of the Board. The President is Vice Chancellor and chief executive officer of the University with responsibility to supervise and direct the implementation of the educational policy and general administration of the University, including the teaching staff, officers, servants and students. The President has power to formulate and implement regulations governing the conduct of students, to recommend to the Board the appointment, promotion and removal of teaching staff, officers and employees of the University, along with power to recommend new faculties, departments, schools, institutes, programmes and projects. The President also has power to strike presidential committees and to recommend courses of action to the Board.
The establishment of York University in 1959 and the need to begin a teaching programme in 1960 meant that the Board of Governors and the President had to move quickly to establish a faculty, a programme of study and employ the necessary teachers and administrators to give life to the new institution. Murray G. Ross was named President in December of 1959 and was inaugurated in 1960. The University was affiliated with the University of Toronto at the time and Ross was able to assemble a teaching staff for September 1960 when the first seventy-five York students enrolled.
The records show that Ross was intimately involved in all facets of the University in the early years, from student activities (and discipline! ), through academic and physical plant planning, to graduation ceremonies. In addition, Ross and his successors spent a good deal of time undertaking public-speaking tours, fund-raising and establishing contacts with other universities in Canada and around the world, with associations and all levels of government.
Murray G. Ross served as President of York for a decade (1960-1970), and was succeeded by David Slater. During his short tenure (1971-1973), Slater continued the course set by the Ross years.
In 1974 Ian H. Macdonald became President of the University, a post he filled for ten years. This period was as significant as the Ross tenure in the presidency. Enrollment increased by fifty per cent while faculty complements remained stable. The introduction of labour unions and collective bargaining was also a feature of the period. The Macdonald era also saw two major reforms of the administrative structure of York, undertaken in a period of fiscal restraint within the Province and the University.
The first reform took place in 1976 as part of a move to centralize planning at York, a major recommendation of the President' s Commission on Goals and Objectives (1976). Among the reforms was the introduction of the Executive Vice President. The second reform occurred in 1983, its most significant aspect being the introduction of a Provost for students at the University.
York was also the first Canadian university to appoint an Advisor on the Status of Women as a senior officer reporting to the President, and Macdonald also appointed a Sexual Harrassment Officer. In the field of research, the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the LaMarsh Research Programme on Violence and Conflict Resolution, the Centre for Research in Experimental Space Science and several other centres were opened in the Macdonald period.
Macdonald retired in 1984 and was succeeded by Harry Arthurs, a Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Although the period of financial restraint continued, the Arthurs presidency was also marked by progress in the University with an ambitious new building program that saw the erection of a Life Science and Environmental Studies Building, the establishment of a physical presence for Calumet College, the building of the new Student Centre, and the completion of the Fine Arts Complex. The student enrollment increase was kept at approximately twenty-five percent in Arthurs' years, while faculty complements remained stable. A new University Academic Plan, focusing on the teaching and research activity of the University, was inaugurated and the Hare Commission examined the role and utility of the non-faculty colleges within the University structure. The University continued its out-reach for students in the expanding adult education and multicultural communities of Toronto.
In 1992 Harry Arthurs retired. He was succeeded by Susan Mann.