At the best of times, the portfolio of the vice-dean, faculty & academic life, is a challenging and unpredictable one encompassing people, careers, teaching and money across the entire Faculty.
John Magee has held the portfolio since 2015 tending the human and financial lifeblood of the Faculty’s academic activities, including faculty searches, appointments, reviews, collective bargaining, labour relations and more. In short, caring for the things that help make U of T Canada’s leading teaching university.
On June 30, Magee will step down and return to his academic calling in the classics. His U of T career began when he joined the Centre for Medieval Studies in the Faculty of Arts & Science in 1992. He became a member of the classics department, the Collaborative Program in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and is also a senior fellow of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
In addition to his accomplishments as vice-dean, Magee’s legacy includes colleagues’ respect for his love of Arts & Science, his sense of integrity and his dedication to improving the lives of faculty.
Arts & Science News spoke with Magee about his time as vice-dean.
During your term, the human relations and labour relations part of your job was a particular challenge. What was that like?
A huge amount of time was taken up with those aspects of the job. It’s challenging because they’re unpredictable aspects and you sometimes feel as if you’re reinventing the wheel. But I think we were able to take some positive steps. Along with many others, I’m extremely grateful for Caroline Rabbat’s support in this area.
Collective bargaining was a full year’s effort. But in the end, I think we managed to work in a productive way with CUPE and that’s put us all — grad students, the union and administration — in a better place. There’s more to do certainly but there was some rethinking to positive effect for everyone.
Many at U of T don’t have to think about the connection between funding and teaching to the degree that a vice-dean does. For example, there are mechanisms for funding courses that you looked at. What did you accomplish there?
The FIS team and I were able to clear up of some issues with regard to funding for summer teaching. The time between first and second year, for example, can be crucial for students. They often need summer courses that allow them to hit the ground running at the beginning of their second year. And you can’t make a decision about such courses based on funding alone. What we did was put financial considerations in a context that allowed us to focus more clearly on what departments and students need in the summer.
One of the main responsibilities of your position is to support faculty. Were there any highlights for you along these lines?
Among other things, I worked extensively with Pam Gravestock — the director of Teaching Support & Faculty Development — on a perceived malaise among mid-career faculty members. We began by asking ‘what’s going on here?’, looked at the Coach and Speaking Up surveys, and analyzed with an eye to figuring out what was needed.
And one of our conclusions was that if there is a mid-career issue, the way to address it is not exclusively at the point when people are already mid-career. You address it as soon as people hit the ground. In other words, you have to look at the whole career trajectory. So we started the process, but it’s a huge project and it will take time.
Your term ends on June 30. What’s next? And how do you feel leaving the vice-dean’s office?
I’ve always thought that it’s necessary to go back to the rank and file after extended administrative gigs. So at this point, it’s back to the classroom and library, back to an unfinished book and back to teaching.
How do I feel?
Mihi displicet valde hanc eximiam facultatem artium scientiarumque relinquere. I am most sad to be leaving this extraordinary Faculty of Arts & Science.