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Dean's Welcome

Hello, Daniels Faculty community.

Before I start, I want to make sure all of you are safe and well. I encourage you to reach out to us if you need help and support as we navigate COVID-19 and the personal challenges it presents for all of us.

We work in detail-oriented, labour-intensive fields, and we're all accustomed to pulling long hours and making personal sacrifices to get ahead. But this year, amid a global pandemic, it's more important than ever that we learn to strike a balance between work and other aspects of our lives. If you ever feel as though it's impossible for you to strike that balance, remember that the university is here to support you. Ask for help, and you will receive it.

I'm Robert Wright. I've been a professor of landscape architecture at the Daniels Faculty for more than 30 years. I've held a number of administrative positions within the Faculty during that time: associate dean, associate dean research, and director of landscape architecture, to name a few. Outside of the Faculty, I was the Director of the Knowledge Media Design Institute and a co-founder of the School of Cities. I was also dean of the University of Toronto's Faculty of Forestry for two years, before it was amalgamated with the Daniels Faculty in 2019.

On July 1, I was handed one of the greatest challenges of my academic career: the position of interim dean of the Daniels Faculty. For one year, or until the next permanent dean is selected, I will be leading the school. My time in office happens to coincide with a period of extraordinary difficulty, not just for the University of Toronto, but for the entire world.

This is a time of change. The pandemic isn't the only challenge we face. Fortunately, with challenges come opportunities.

The killing of George Floyd and the resulting global protest movement against anti-Black discrimination has given us an opportunity to grapple, in a concerted manner, with systemic racism at our school and within our professions.

At the same time, we continue to struggle with the global challenge presented by climate change — which gives us a chance to learn new techniques and transform our practices for the better.

We can't return to the past, and we can't predict the future. And so our responsibility now is to work together to create the future we want. Words and platitudes are no longer enough; we need to develop new processes and approaches to professional education that will lead to long-term change. My goal is to engage the entire Daniels community in this process.

One thing we will be doing as we embark on this project of self-examination is altering the top-down nature of our administration. Around the world and at every level of society, organizations are being asked to reexamine who gets to exercise power, and how. The Daniels Faculty isn't exempt from this. I believe in distributed leadership. We each have an important stake in our university, our faculty, and our professions.

I will spend my deanship working to make our administrative hierarchy more horizontal. We're going to engage students, staff, and faculty in the decision-making process, and give voice to underrepresented groups.

One of the hardest parts of all of this will be measuring our success. How will we know when we've given voice to enough people, redistributed enough power, created enough change?

I think we'll know we've done enough when we can see the change embodied in new forms of pedagogy, new approaches to critical history and theory, and new and more inclusive forms of design and research. Only when the results of our efforts at diversity, equity, and inclusion are evident in the day-to-day business of the school will we know our work has been sufficient.

The University of Toronto is a fantastic place. It's an ecosystem that is more adaptable and resilient than most people think. If we work together, there's a lot we can do. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me. My hope is that you will all fully participate in our Faculty’s evolution.

Finally, since most of us here are visual thinkers, I've prepared a photo-essay version of this message. Flip through the slideshow below to get your dean's welcome in a slightly more Dylanesque format.

Again: be safe, take care of yourselves, and ask for help if you need it. This is going to be an exciting year.

Robert Wright
Interim Dean

Photographs by Thai Go. Follow Thai on Instagram @gothaigo.