By RON FANFAIR
Dr. Gervan Fearon is extremely proud of his Jamaican roots, having lived on the island for three years with his Jamaican parents.
That fierce pride is more evident these days after the British-born award-winning professor was appointed Dean of Ryerson University’s Raymond Chang School of Continuing Learning, Canada’s leading provider of university-based adult learning with an annual enrollment of nearly 67,000 engaged in almost 1,100 courses and over 75 career-related certificate programs.
The school is named after Jamaican-born entrepreneur and Ryerson Chancellor, Dr. Raymond Chang, in honour of his generous support and deep belief in lifelong learning.
“It’s an absolute honour to be that person selected to carry Dr. Chang’s vision forward,” said Fearon, whose appointment is for a five-year term – effective July 1 – and includes a tenured position as associate professor in the Department of Economics. “He’s someone who truly values education, which is also a passion for me.
“In fact, I view education as one of those (things) in society that allows for transformation. When you put education against some of society’s concerns like poverty and lack of opportunity, you come up with hope and opportunity. Having being given the opportunity to contribute to the education process at Ryerson says that this institution is open and available to everyone in Toronto and communities across this city. That is significant.
“My appointment also says that Ryerson is signaling, not only to its faculty, but also to immigrants and communities that have not traditionally taken advantage of post secondary education, that the university is open to them also.”
Fearon is returning to Ryerson where he taught part-time for seven years up until 1999 before joining York University where he served as Acting Dean and Associate Dean (Academics) at the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies. Atkinson has close to 9,000 students and is the primary point of entry for the university’s part-time and adult students.
“I have been prepared for the new challenges that lie ahead,” said Fearon. “As a Dean, I will have the opportunity to guide and steer the organization’s course and bring my knowledge base to bear on the school.”
Fearon’s rise has been quite phenomenal after having to overcome dyslexia and other challenges when he came to Canada from Jamaica at the age of nine.
“Our parents had a vision for me and my three siblings that we would all attend university. We did. That really made a difference in our lives because it gave us an opportunity and opened doors. The success I have had should say to others that challenges can, in fact, be turned into opportunities.”
After graduating from high school in four years (he attended Bathurst Heights Collegiate and West Hill Collegiate), Fearon successfully pursued a Bachelors of Economics degree and a Masters in Agriculture from the University of Guelph in 1981 and 1985 respectively, and a doctorate in Economics from the University of Western Ontario in 1999. He also completed the Queen’s University Strategic Leadership program.
A visiting scholar at the University of Washington and faculty administrative leader of York University’s TD Community Engagement Centre which is an innovative, community-based facility designed to improve public access and involvement in university activities and resources, Fearon was the recipient of the University of Toronto at Scarborough Division of Management’s Professor of the Year award in 2000 and the 2007 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching at Atkinson.
In addition to teaching, he has worked in the public and private sectors, including Chase Econometrics of Chase Manhattan Bank in Pennsylvania where he tackled some of the organization’s large scale mathematical and forecasting modules.
He also served as chief executive officer of Launch Fusion Communication, an award-winning website which provided online access to over 200 international newspapers and radio stations and as president of Nucore Business and Economic Services.
Fearon is in his third year as president of Tropicana Community Services, the largest Black social service delivery agency in Canada with an annual operating budget of nearly $7.5 million.
Being a Black Dean at a Canadian institution of higher learning is a rarity. Professor Emeritus, Dr. David Bell, brother of former Metro Toronto councilor, Bev Salmon, was the Dean of Environmental Studies and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies at York University while Quebec’s first Black judge, Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, holds the distinction of being the first Black Dean of a Canadian Law School, the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law.