When the opportunity to become the Chair presented itself more than six
years ago, why did you choose to accept the responsibility? What was your
There are a lot of factors that go into such a decision. But foremost, I
accepted the Chair position because this is such a fabulous department — I feel
fortunate to be part of it, and welcomed the opportunity to contribute to its
success in ways other than my teaching and scholarship.
Do you feel you have completed everything you had set out to do when you
became the Chair six years ago?
Absolutely not! Unfortunately, it's not a job where you lay out some
specific objectives and declare victory once those are achieved. This is true
for a variety of reasons. First, while every chair will bring in his or her own
ideas to the position, a chair doesn't so much define the agenda for a department as inform, shape, refine, and
prioritize the collective will of the department, and then direct its
Second, and just as importantly, circumstances — intellectual, economic,
demographic, societal, policy, and so on — often turn on a dime, and the
department must constantly adapt. Our mission at the highest level remains
clear: to offer the highest quality education and to engage in research across
a broad range of areas, with the highest potential for scientific, economic and
societal impact. But our specific plans and strategies must be flexible.
Two examples of changing circumstances to illustrate: First, eight years
ago, undergraduate enrolments in computer science were at a peak and we were
straining under the load. In the span of four years, incoming enrolments in our
department — and computer science and engineering across North America — dropped
by 50% or more. (Fortunately, we've been seeing a significant rebound the past
two years.) Second, the last six years have seen a change in the research
funding climate within the province and the country, with an increasing
emphasis on industrial partnerships, co-funding arrangements, and the exploration
of the commercial/economic impact of our research output. Both developments
have changed the way we conduct business in significant ways.
After six years, what are your thoughts about stepping down?
I have very mixed feelings about it of course. I've enjoyed the job
immensely, and draw a great deal of satisfaction from many of the things we've
been able to accomplish as a department. And I've had the opportunity to work
closely with some great people, certainly within DCS, but also across the
Faculty of Arts and Science and the University of Toronto, and externally as
well. I'm really going to miss that. There is also a lot left undone that I'd
really like to see through. But that will be true of anyone leaving any administrative
position. I've come to accept a small "three-year rule for major academic
change" (which has helped me keep frustration levels to a minimum). I'm
happy to discuss this rule of thumb with anyone if they ask!
That said, it's important to inject new blood into the chair's office, and
healthy for the department to adopt a fresh perspective every few years. There
are some great leaders in DCS ready to step in now, and in the future. That
makes stepping down much less difficult.
Finally, there are a number of other research initiatives that I've put on
hold, or slowed down, for the last six years — I'm really excited to have more
time to devote to these.
What accomplishments are you most proud of completing over the past six
First, I want to emphasize that our accomplishments are all collective. We
succeed or fail in any endeavor as a department, and a lot of our greatest
accomplishments are due to the energies of some specific individuals who really
took the initiative to make things happen.
There are far too many to list, so I'll just pick a few highlights.
I'm really pleased with the success of our faculty, staff and students over
the last six years. This includes faculty tenure and promotion cases (22 in the
last six years); recognition of faculty research and teaching through major
international and university awards; staff professional development, promotion
to new positions, and university awards; and graduate and undergraduate student
placement and awards. It's hard not to take pride in this and whatever small
role you can play in facilitating the achievements of the great people in DCS.
A few other things worth mentioning include:
our program of outreach, communications and student
recruitment, something in which we have invested substantially, and
systematized, over the last several years;
significant innovation in undergraduate curriculum and teaching methods, and a
greater recognition of (and support for) the professional development
activities of our teaching-stream faculty;
- the development of our new, professionally oriented. Masters of Science in Applied Computing
- the increased emphasis on industrial engagement among our faculty and graduate students; this includes the launch of a half dozen start-ups in the last several years;
There is of course much, much more — we did a self-study this fall and
produced a 41-page report on what we've accomplished over the last six years.
That's pretty hard to summarize in a couple of bullets!
What will you miss the most about your role?
I guess I've mentioned some of this above. But I'll certainly miss working
with some great people. The staff in the Chair’s office is outstanding and has
done everything they can to make my job easier (and a lot of fun besides).
I'll miss working with faculty in DCS on the broad range of initiatives that
involve the chair — however, I'll get to reconnect with some of my colleagues
more directly in research and teaching collaborations, which makes up for this.
And there are some wonderful folks across UofT with whom I won't engage as
much. It's really been a pleasure to discover first-hand what great research
and teaching takes place across campus.
But mostly, I'll miss the power... yeah, definitely the power. (Just
What are you looking forward to after stepping down?
Where to begin? How about the chance to spend the odd weekend with my wife
and six-year-old daughter!
Professionally, I'm really excited about getting re-engaged in a couple of
research themes that I've been set aside or decelerated due to lack of time.
This includes some work at the intersection of computer science and social
sciences (especially economics and social choice) and renewing some
collaborations on assistive technologies with colleagues at the Toronto
Rehabilitation Institute. I'm looking forward to spending more time working
with my graduate students (who, apart from my family, have probably borne the
brunt of my chairmanship the most).
Having the time to spend exploring collaborative research opportunities with
local companies will really be welcome. Finally, I'm looking forward to getting
back into the classroom in earnest!
Do you have any funny stories that come to mind from the span of your
Too many to even know where to begin. And some of the funniest can't be
discussed in public!
What was the most challenging aspect of your role?
A large part of the job is making tradeoffs and prioritizing the needs and
demands of a diverse set of constituents. This is always a challenge, but
basically that's what a chair does 95% of the time.
Dealing with personal conflicts is never much fun. Fortunately, they are
few, but in a department of any size, they do occur.
Finally, our department has seen more than its share of tragedy in the past
six years, with the deaths of one emeritus and four active faculty members. The
loss for their families and friends is immeasurable of course. But all had so
much left to contribute, both to the research community as scientists, and to
DCS as wonderful colleagues. The impact on the department has been profound.
What is your fondest memory of being the Chair of DCS?
It's hard to pick a single memory. But overall it was a true pleasure to get
to learn, in the way only a department chair can, just what fantastic people we
have in DCS.There's nothing like
preparing a tenure case or writing an award nomination to make you appreciate
how truly stellar our faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduates
really are. Similarly, the opportunity to work with some very talented and
dedicated academic administrators across campus has been very gratifying.