Questions that people ask the Dean, and the answers that I give

Question marks

I was interviewed for the job of Dean of Science some years ago in December of 2004, shortly before Christmas.  I was asked a number of questions, which I admit now to having largely forgotten.  Even at the time, I remember being preoccupied by the coming Holiday season.  But, with hindsight, I see this was a turning point.  Since then, many of the questions I have been asked are asked because I’m the Dean.  A lot of these are paperwork things like, can a dossier be a day late, or can the Faculty contribute to some project, or something like that.  A surprising number are not though. (more…)

Expo 67: the world is made of ideas

The US Pavilion for Expo '67, which now houses the Montreal Biosphere Museum.

When I was ten years old, my family went to Expo 67, the Man and his World Fair in Montréal.  I remember this as an astonishing event: the passports, the pavilions, the monorail, the people.  Canada was 100 years old, and Montréal’s sights were toward the future, not the past.  It was an exciting time.

In fact, I think it might have been more than an exciting time.  I think it was a time when the world became seized with innovation, invention, creativity, and a sense of wonder and possibility.  Expo 67 was just one example of this. That sense of possibility informed the excitement of Pierre Trudeau’s election the following year.  It informed the music and overwhelming experience of Jimi Hendrix, and many other artists.  It is no coincidence that scientific laws discovered at the time refer to “universality classes”, where properties are “self-similar”.  In fact whatever was in the air was so pervasive, it was in commercial advertisements, “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” went the jingle for Coca-Cola. It was the common language and mind-set of the times: the ideas of equality of opportunity for all people, and particularly of living now, in the present.  There was some sloppy thinking as well: “being here now” can lead to nihilism, where surrender to the realm of the senses becomes the only objective.  In any case, it is easy to recognize this ideology in hindsight; it was the language of the enlightenment, of naturalism and humanism, expressed in the streets rather than in scholarly tomes. It was a world consensus, empowering but more fragile than thought at the time; elements of this consensus remain in place – and indeed this ideology forms the basis of the meritocracies which constitute modern Universities – but it is no longer a public ideology. (more…)

Don’t send that email; pick up the phone!

By Victor Chisholm

Student Holding Books and Talking on Her Cell Phone on a Sunny Afternoon.Travel takes us out of our daily routines and usual places, so with an open mind, a traveller can easily find himself or herself bombarded with new ideas. I was a little surprised –but not that surprised – that it was two recent vacations by bicycle that pointed me to the perils of information in the digital age. All you who rely on search engines for your information, beware!

In the summer of 2011, I spent a few weeks cycling through some of the most beautiful parts of the province of Quebec, camping along the way. Quebec has some excellent tourist offices to help a tired and hungry cyclist find the best places to eat, stock up on provisions, and camp. The staff were very helpful and friendly, but I noticed a digital divide in information. It was not what I expected. (more…)

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