Biblical scholar, social critic, and internationalist, Robert Alexander Falconer was also the foremost Canadian university leader of his generation, serving as president of the University of Toronto from 1907 to 1932. James Greenlee's biography chronicles his development as an academic leader and a public man.
Born in Charlottetown in 1867, Falconer was raised in the West Indies and educated in Scotland and Germany. His interests were wide-ranging, and his cosmopolitan background led him habitually to view developments in Toronto in the light of national and international affairs. From his early days as a theology professor in Halifax, he was a champion of social reform and a foe of isolationism. Charting his own course, he spurned the Social Gospel yet remained the activist Presbyterian minister. An ardent Canadian patriot, he was also a devout imperialist who gradually evolved into a prominent internationalist between the wars.
His vision of the university, flexible and eclectic, was driven by two powerful commitments: to preserve the university's autonomy in the face of often fierce public pressure and to forge the University of Toronto into a national institution capable of fending off American cultural influence. His contributions were many: most notably he helped to develop a coherent voice for Canadian academic as a whole and to enlarge the scope of academic freedom.
A single, strong thread served to unify Falconer's thoughts. That element
was his commitment to a brand of philosophical idealism which was born in his
student days, ripened as he matured as a scholar, and blossomed during his tenure
at Toronto. It was that idealism that most helped establish Falconer as a public
man whose interests and influence extended far in scope beyond the university's
walls and far in time beyond his years there.
Greenlee, James G. Sir Robert Falconer: A Biography.
Toronto; University of Toronto Press, 1988