David Cameron a ‘master craftsman at building a community and instilling a shared sense of purpose’

June 26, 2019 by Alexa Zulak - A&S News

David Cameron has been a steadying force at the University of Toronto.

An accomplished political scientist, Cameron has held the positions of vice-president, Institutional Relations and chair of the Department of Political Science.

And even though he completes his term as dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science at the end of June, his guiding influence at U of T will continue on.

“I think I've had the best job in the University and one of the best jobs, frankly, in my whole career,” said Cameron of his time as dean. “And I've had some pretty good jobs over the years.”

This includes a number of senior positions within the Government of Ontario such as Deputy Minister, Intergovernmental Affairs, Deputy Minister and Special Advisor to the Premier on Constitutional Reform, and Special Constitutional Advisor to the Premier of Ontario.

A scholar of Canadian federalism, Quebec nationalism and constitutional reform, Cameron later turned his attention to political change and constitution-making in conflict and post-conflict situations in Sri Lanka, Iraq, Somalia, the Western Sahara and Jerusalem.

“I’ve learned that most jobs that are truly fulfilling are hard. They’re filled with challenges, opportunities, and laced with engaging puzzles and strategic choices. Not all hard jobs are good, but most good jobs are hard,” said Cameron.

David has been a master craftsman at building a community and instilling us with a shared sense of purpose.

“And being the dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science is a good, hard job.”

Cameron inherited the Faculty as it was going through financially turbulent times, when he took on the role of interim dean in 2013.

But after six years under his leadership, Cameron’s calm, careful and deliberate stewardship has led to stability and growth, leaving the Faculty in excellent shape — both financially and with renewed momentum.

“David has been a master craftsman at building a community and instilling us with a shared sense of purpose,” said Dwayne Benjamin, vice-dean, graduate education and professor in the Department of Economics.

“In some sense, it reflects his leadership talents that he knows how to get things done in a diverse Faculty. But even more so, creating an organization and administration where it is a fulfilling pleasure to work every day is a laudable end in itself.”

Those who have worked closely with Cameron are quick to note the natural ease he has brought to the role.

David’s warmth, humour, integrity, compassion and sheer decency have never been overtaken by the position.

“David’s warmth, humour, integrity, compassion and sheer decency have never been overtaken by the position,” said Charlie Keil, principal of Innis College and professor in the Cinema Studies Institute and Department of History. “He has never sacrificed his innate humanity for the role.”

For Cameron, injecting humour and humanity into daily administrative life is a way to take a step back from the challenges of the position and not get lost in the gravity of the role.

“Humor in life is precious and makes everything better,” said Cameron. “It helps to humanize people who have serious responsibilities. It's more than just the suit and the face. I see things from the funny side, sometimes. It’s just my nature.”

As for what comes next, Cameron is ready to leave the urban jungle for Quebec’s tree-filled mountain ranges, as he heads to his family’s cottage in the Laurentians for an extended break after he steps down.

“It will be nice to have a change of pace,” said Cameron. “I envision my email going from 100 or 200 messages a day to 12. It will be a bit of a shock.”

But it won’t last for long.

Come January 2020, Cameron will return to administrative life at U of T, as special advisor to the president and provost for a two-year term.

Drawing on his strengths and experience as a thoughtful, collaborative and widely respected leader, Cameron will continue to provide the University with valuable insights into a range of key institutional files.

For now, Cameron remains focused on leading the Faculty until his last day in the Office of the Dean.

“I'm not winding down,” said Cameron. “I don't believe that you can escape the tight embrace of decanal responsibilities until virtually the last day of your term.”

Still, in looking back on his six years in the dean role, Cameron is proud of what he has accomplished.

“These kinds of administrative roles are never finished. You're always leaving your job undone and somebody else comes along and puts their own spin on it,” said Cameron. “But my perspective is that the Faculty is in a much better place than it was six years ago.”

And many would agree. 

Professor Melanie Woodin, a neuroscientist in the Department of Cell & Systems Biology, will become the University of Toronto’s next dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. Woodin, who is currently the Faculty’s vice-dean of interdivisional partnerships, will serve a five-year term beginning on July 1.