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Photo of Rob Wright (white man) in black suit

04.05.22 – Professor Rob Wright wins 2022 Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award

Associate Professor Robert M. Wright is the 2022 recipient of the Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award, one of the University of Toronto’s annual Awards of Excellence recognizing outstanding faculty, staff and students.

While those who have known Prof. Wright personally won’t be surprised to learn that he has been singled out for his academic dedication and professional intrepidness, a list of just a few of his titles and accomplishments over his past 35 years at U of T should give even the uninitiated some idea of his hands-on m.o.

At Daniels Faculty alone, he has served as the inaugural associate dean for research (from 2010 to 2014), as the Dean’s representative when it came to Site Plan and Landscape Architectural Implementation during the epochal redesign of 1 Spadina (from 2016 to 2018) and as the interim dean of the Faculty itself (in 2020–21).

In previous years and elsewhere at the University, Prof. Wright drafted the Master of Urban Design proposal for Graduate Studies (in 1995–96), was among the founding members of an innovative pre-Internet learning hub called the Knowledge Media Design Institute (which he directed from 1998 to 2003) and played a role in “envisioning and advancing” what will be the tallest wood structure in North America (slated to go up, at 315 Bloor Street West, sometime this summer).

Most significantly, he often undertook these leadership and guidance roles under challenging circumstances from which many others would have shied away.

While he was serving as the founding director of the Centre for Landscape Research, for instance, Prof. Wright also began a two-year term as the last dean of the Faculty of Forestry, successfully overseeing its long-brewing 2017 transitioning into the John H. Daniels Faculty. When he stepped into the role of interim dean, the Covid pandemic was at its peak and addressing racial injustices became an urgent issue.

“Rob has provided strong, successful leadership for a remarkably long list of programs, schools and faculties at the University of Toronto,” Larry Wayne Richards, professor emeritus and former dean of the Daniels Faculty, said in the nomination package for the Vivek Goel Award. “[He’s] an exemplary citizen, to say the least.”

The University of Toronto Alumni Association, which supports and oversees the Awards of Excellence, agreed.

The Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award, created to mark the 2008 departure of its namesake from his role as U of T’s vice-president and provost, recognizes a faculty member who has served the University “with distinction in multiple leadership capacities in diverse spheres.”

The winner is typically “a senior member of the faculty,” and “an exemplary university citizen” over many years. Indeed, recipients are very often individuals with a “sustained” history of service.

Highlighting that long track record, Professor Eric Miller, of the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, wrote in the nomination package: “[Prof. Wright] combines a very realistic, pragmatic view of the world and its many challenges — grounded in decades of professional and academic experience — with an amazingly positive and upbeat approach to problem-solving, policy-setting and decision-making, whether it be the design of a new academic program or sorting out thorny interdepartmental relations.”

“This is not an easy task,” Professor Mark Fox of Industrial Engineering and Computer Science added, citing the restructuring of Forestry when it joined the Daniels Faculty, “as the views and needs of faculty and the disappointment of alumni have to be balanced with the long-term goals of the University. To do this with a minimal amount of friction while displaying an unusual level of equanimity [as Prof. Wright did] never ceased to amaze me.”

In her testimonial, Professor Liat Margolis, Prof. Wright’s successor as associate dean of research at the Daniels Faculty, summed up: “He is generous with his time, critical reflections and insights, an excellent listener, and an engaging colleague. His energy and contribution as a citizen of the University and an active leader in the design community are important, but his support for students and their needs are even greater.”

According to Prof. Margolis, Prof. Wright has a mantra that encapsulates his engaged, proactive philosophy. It is: “...the most important thing you can do as a faculty member or as a student of the Daniels Faculty is to leave the building.”

And, she added, “he has done just that.”