Hello, Goodbye


In 2001, Suzanne Vega wrote a song called I’ll never be your Maggie May, where the last verse starts, “And so a woman leaves a man, and so the world turns on its end”. She pitches the line ironically; on the surface, she means the opposite of what she says: the breakup of relationships, people leaving their jobs and moving on and so forth, these are everyday things, not the end of the world. Of course, at a deeper level, she means exactly what she says, as the world is made up of these everyday things.

And so, goodbye. I officially started as dean in June of 2005, but it was just before Christmas in 2004 that I was told I would be the next dean, and it was announced the following January of 2005. Now I have a few months to go, and then I will go on to other things.

I have been told that one can become an expert in a topic after ten years of hard work. Perhaps so. In any case over the last decade I have learned some things and met good people from all walks of life. Now I have been encouraging people to allow their names to go forward to replace me, and I am confident that the Faculty will be in good hands, as it was before I started as dean, for as long as I have been at McGill.

When I speak to people about doing this job, I tell them three reasons they should not do it, and three reasons they should do it. Most of this I will not share here, but I was reminded of one of the positive reasons recently. I had a meeting with a professor, a departmental chair, a member of our support staff, and an associate dean. The meeting was about, of course, money — or rather the lack of it, which was resolved at the end of the meeting. At the beginning of the meeting, I asked what are we meeting about. The young professor started to talk about someone who said something, then someone did something, and so somewhere and somehow some money did not arrive. I was confused. I said what do you need this money for? What are you working on? And she told us. We — the departmental chair, the member of our support staff, the associate dean, and I — listened transfixed. And for the zillionth time over ten years, I felt good about my job because of the great people I get to talk to and occasionally help out.

Dr. Seuss’ last book, published in 1990 shortly before his death, was Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I remember reading it years ago and thinking, this is a kid’s book, but it isn’t a kid’s book: it’s about looking back, clear-eyed and positively, at the everyday world-defining events of life’s ups and downs.

And so, hello. Thanks to all my new friends, all my new colleagues, and all I have met while dean. I hope to see you all soon.

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