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From the Dean

A Time of Transitions

Story by
Robert Stacey, Dean

As I approach the final six months of my time as Dean, I have been thinking a lot about transitions. Like all Americans in this new decade, I am looking forward to the prospect that we will bring the COVID-19 epidemic under control during the upcoming year. I have also watched, with trepidation and alarm, the violence and deceit that has scarred the leadership transition in our nation’s capital. And on an infinitely smaller level of importance, I’ve been thinking about my own transition as I prepare to hand over responsibility for this extraordinary college to a new dean.

Portrait of Dean Robert Stacey on campus

"After ten years as dean, I am struck more powerfully than ever by how much there is still to learn," says College of Arts & Sciences Dean Robert Stacey, above. Media credit: Corinne Thrash

Transitions always induce anxiety, less because of what we leave behind than because of the uncertainty about what lies ahead of us. I suspect none of us are sorry to put 2020 behind us; but that said, we really don’t know what the post-COVID world will look like. Getting “back to normal” is an impossibility — when has “normal” ever meant returning to “the way things were"? We may succeed in suppressing COVID-19. I sincerely hope that we do. But we can never bring back the hundreds of thousands of lives we have lost to it. The world will be different without those individuals in our lives. And the ways we live in the new, post-COVID world will be different also. But how and in what ways, we have no way no of knowing. We can only find out by experiencing it.

The world, and our own small place in it, is always changing.

The same is true of the College. In 2020, Arts & Sciences faculty and staff adapted to provide an exceptional education to students and to connect with the broader community despite COVID-19. Some of those changes, borne by necessity, have shown us new possibilities that we will continue to explore post-COVID. The world, and our own small place in it, is always changing. As the pre-classical Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously observed, it is impossible to place one’s foot twice into the same river, because the water in the river is constantly moving on. So too must we.

As for me, I am looking forward to catching up on a lot of reading; taking some trips to our national parks when it is safe to do so; and spending months at a time in my home province of Nova Scotia. I also look forward to pursuing my classical education in Greek and Roman literature, subjects to which I’ve never been able to devote the proper time and attention. 

After ten years as dean, I am struck more powerfully than ever by how much there is still to learn. Heraclitus’s river moves on; I look forward to discovering where it leads.