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Lisa Barnoff’s leadership leaves a legacy of equity and inclusion initiatives, support for students and researchers

The FCS community has grown under her leadership
By: Bonte Minnema
June 09, 2021

Lisa Barnoff was appointed as dean of the Faculty of Community Services (FCS) in May 2016. Soon it will be time to say a fond farewell to Dean Barnoff as she leaves the Dean’s Office to begin a post-administrative leave. She leaves a profound legacy at FCS. Recently we were able to gather some of her thoughts on the growth and accomplishments of FCS under her leadership over the last five years. 

Throughout her leadership roles at Ryerson, Barnoff has continually made efforts to improve student engagement and experience, take action on equity and inclusion, and make investments in financial support for students. Prior to becoming dean of FCS, she was the director of the School of Social Work -- where she led the way to create new pathways to entry for students, enhanced the school’s partnership with the First Nations Technical Institute, guided the school through substantial curriculum changes, created new admissions pathways, partnered with alumni to develop an alumni association, and increased the visibility and reputation of the school. 

If these accomplishments sound familiar, it’s because she has continued that style of social justice-focused leadership throughout her time as dean. For Barnoff, the goal of social justice and equity for all is at the heart of all that she does. FCS is the second-largest faculty at Ryerson, and Barnoff’s leadership has been bold and ongoing. The university recognized Barnoff for her excellence in leadership, the furtherance of Ryerson’s mission, and as a role model, by conferring upon her The Errol Aspevig Award for Outstanding Academic Leadership in 2020. At the time, she’d spent 13 of her 17 years at Ryerson in academic leadership roles. 

“Together with the FCS leadership team, we grew the Dean’s Office infrastructure to be able to better support such a large faculty. Growing the support teams for Research, Advancement, and Finance will have a significant impact for many years to come. With additional staff resources, faculty can spend more of their time doing both the research and teaching that we are known for and can be even more successful in doing so. It’s my hope that these ongoing support systems will help FCS researchers to continue to advance the pace and progress of their outstanding work,” said Barnoff. 

“Of course a university is primarily about students, so we recognized there was a need to improve student engagement programs at the faculty level. We created the manager of student experience role and I couldn’t be more pleased with the work that Dani Gomez-Ortega and her growing team have done in that area. They have worked with students to support the development of a student society, supported student groups, provided one-on-one support for students applying for financial aid and graduate studies, and expanded our outreach and recruitment efforts. This work helps to break down access barriers to our programs, and provides students with various support systems to ensure they can successfully complete their studies,” said Barnoff. 

“We also created a second full-time associate dean role which enabled more attention to be focused on undergraduate program issues, and more supports to be provided to faculty members around teaching and learning and curriculum issues. This role has also provided leadership in advancing our equity and inclusion initiatives, including, for example, overseeing our grants for equity, diversity and inclusion and the funding announcement this year to help advance curriculum development to better address anti-Black racism,” said Barnoff.

“Over the past year, we developed and took action on our anti-Black racism plan. We created the dean’s advisor on anti-Black racism position and funded many equity and inclusion initiatives, including over $90,000 in funding for scholarships for Black students. We are deeply committed to taking action and continually working to address anti-Black racism. We will not be able to solve this immediately, but we will continue to take concrete steps to do this important work. We improved our outreach and recruitment programs specifically to encourage Black students to apply to our programs, and we provided funding to update the curriculum in several courses specifically to address anti-Black racism. In addition to making efforts to recruit Black students, we have also taken steps to recruit more Black faculty at FCS. There are more steps to take, and I’m confident that FCS will continue to build on this foundation in the future. Another important part of our equity and inclusion work was the creation of a new leadership position called FCS strategic lead, Indigenous resurgence and our recruitment of Lynn Lavallée back to Ryerson to take up this important role. This position was created in order to enable FCS to enhance support to Indigenous students, staff and faculty, and to build on our partnerships with Indigenous organizations,” said Barnoff.

Dean Barnoff’s leadership also included efforts to enhance the reputation of FCS and better profile the work of FCS researchers by growing the communications team at the Dean’s Office, which has enabled us to better tell and share stories about the excellent work being done in this faculty. Recently we have published the FCS Retrospective, celebrating the extraordinary impact of leading-edge scholarly research activities undertaken under the leadership of Jennifer Martin, associate dean, graduate studies & scholarly, research and creative (SRC) activity. “The research being done by FCS faculty members has tremendous impact in communities and is creating change in both policy and practice, thereby furthering our goals in relation to helping bring about the kinds of changes that are needed to ensure healthy, liveable, inclusive cities,” said Barnoff. 

“We’ve also increased the footprint of our physical plant. Ryerson opened the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex and moved four of our schools into this fantastic new space, the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, the School of Nutrition, the School of Occupational and Public Health and the Midwifery Education Program. This also allowed us to gain access to new office space for research and student engagement. This new building will host the second site of the Ryerson Urban Farm, an initiative which grew out of the School of Nutrition, which is currently producing 10,000 pounds of food per year and growing,” said Barnoff.

FCS recently announced Barnoff’s plan to allocate one million dollars in new funding for student support, funds raised in support of Barnoff’s priorities for students. 

“I couldn’t be more pleased about the work that FCS staff and faculty have done. We’ve taken steps to support student experience, to take action on equity and inclusion, and to raise money to better support students. The dedication of the Dean’s Office, the FCS academic leadership team, and the FCS staff and faculty in our nine schools, to these principles, continues to amaze me,” said Barnoff. The faculty-wide COVID-19 response exemplifies the team-based approach she fostered. “This past year -- we have faced a global pandemic. Everyone worked together to figure out how to best work remotely, create new ways of teaching and learning, create virtual placements, develop research projects via our newly created rapid response research grants, support local hospitals and remote First Nations communities. We were able to do this because we had built out our teams to better support the work that was required. We build strong partnerships, and we know this work and all those who contribute to doing it, are so important,” said Barnoff. 

Barnoff’s charismatic, caring, and collaborative style of leadership will be missed by her team. While she is leaving the role of dean, her passion for social justice and the positive impact of her leadership will continue. “I’m going to miss this office and the team I work with, as I take this year away from Ryerson,” she said. “I plan to take a little bit of time to unwind and then I will engage in reflection and research. I want to continue to write about academic leadership, with a focus on what a social justice approach to leadership can look like in this context. As always, I’m thinking a lot about gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disability and overall, how identity is relevant to academic leadership.” We can only hope this work will lead to more leaders like her.