Chair Victoria Wohl looks back on an unusual year….

Photo of Victoria Wohl, chairDear colleagues, students and alumni,

Well, this has been quite a year. This time last year we were hoping against hope that the pandemic would be contained by the end of the summer and we would return to normal operations in the fall. That did not happen, of course, and I don’t have to recount the myriad challenges of the year. But I am happy to say that the Department of Classics has come through the storm — which now happily seems to be abating — as strong as ever. Our instructors, both faculty and graduate students, responded to the difficulties of online teaching with amazing energy and creativity, getting quickly up to speed on synchronous and asynchronous meetings, breakout rooms, video editing software and meeting owls. Our undergraduate and graduate students rose magnificently to the challenge of online learning, maintaining their focus and good spirits despite the exhaustion and isolation of the pandemic. Although for most of the year we were unable to meet in person, we still managed to maintain a lively slate of lectures and a busy schedule of department and faculty meetings, at which we introduced, among other things, initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in the field. We even held three virtual department parties and chatted with each other’s avatars. In short, in this most unusual year we managed to sustain business virtually as usual.

In fact, we did more than that: at all levels, and despite all the impediments, 2020-21 was a very successful year. This newsletter will document many of the successes (and others can be found on the “Kudos” page on the department website) but let me highlight just a few. This spring, 64 students received their bachelor of arts with majors and minors in classics and classical civilization. We are tremendously proud of our undergraduates, who go on to successful careers in such areas as law, business, public service and academia. Since the publication of the last newsletter, a half dozen graduate students have become doctors of philosophy in classics. The achievement of these students attests not only to the strength of our graduate and undergraduate programs and the dedication of our instructors and supervisors but also to the vitality of the field of classics. Of course, the members of our community also contribute to that vitality through their research and publications. Despite the additional pressures of online teaching and the difficulty of accessing materials, this year our faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows published, in aggregate, an astonishing 40 articles and book chapters; applied for and won major fellowships; and sustained ongoing research projects, including archaeological excavations in Greece and Italy.

The vibrancy of our programs and the excellence of our faculty and students were really driven home to me this year during the self-study the department conducted as part of the cyclical University of Toronto Quality Assurance Process. In the course of this analysis of our undergraduate and graduate programs, we learned that our undergraduate and graduate students are very accomplished. Our faculty have also performed excellently. Most importantly, we learned how well we work together. The process of the self-study demonstrated our ability to work collaboratively to focus on our collective vision of the field and to define and achieve our mission as a department. It is this ability to work together that allowed us to weather this year’s pandemic and that will keep us sailing straight into the future.

On a personal note, this has not been the easiest year to be a new chair learning the ropes amidst the constant swells of a global pandemic. But the process would have been infinitely harder without the support and goodwill of my colleagues and our graduate and undergraduate students. My thanks in particular to the outgoing executive committee — Christer Bruun as associate chair, graduate, and George Boys-Stones as associate chair, undergraduate — for their sage advice and tireless work on behalf of the department. Both completed their terms on June 30 and will be replaced this year by Seth Bernard (graduate) and Ben Akrigg and Kevin Wilkinson (undergraduate in the fall and spring, respectively). I thank the incoming executive and look forward to working with them. My thanks as well to the executives of the Classics Students’ Union and the Classics Graduate Students’ Union. Their energetic advocacy for their constituencies strengthens the department as a whole. Finally, it was my pleasure and privilege to work — albeit remotely — with our outstanding staff, Coral Gavrilovic and Ann-Marie Matti. Working from home was particularly difficult for them, as they were without access to all their files and in isolation from the faculty and students. I am grateful to them both for their hard work and dedication to the department and for their patience and unflagging good spirits during an often dispiriting year.

This leads me to a last note — sad for us but happy for her. On July 31, Ann-Marie retired after more than 30 year as business officer in the Department of Classics. The winner of the 2019 Dean’s Distinguished Service Award, Ann-Marie has been with the department since 1988, longer than all but one faculty member, and has assisted and advised more than half a dozen chairs. For 33 years, she has prepared the department budget and managed our accounts. She has prepared countless contracts and made sure everyone got paid every month. She has handled the material for the hiring, promotion and tenure of almost every current faculty member and has managed our grant funds with an iron fist. She has also been office manager in three different department offices, overseeing our move from the small, simple building near Hart House (nicknamed the “rabbit hutch”) to 97 St. George, and from there to our current home in the Lillian Massey Building. Throughout all this time she has been a consummate professional, competent and efficient at her job but also warm and friendly with a wicked sense of humour, and utterly devoted to the Department of Classics. It is hard to picture the department without her smiling face. She will be very much missed but we wish her all the best for her retirement!

Finally, my thanks to you, the broader community of alumni/ae and friends of the Department of Classics. As we look forward to starting a new year this autumn, to welcoming new students and postdoctoral fellows, to teaching new courses and undertaking new projects — all, we ardently hope, in person! — your continued support means the world to us. Please stay in touch, and if you are in the area, please do stop by and say hello.

Victoria Wohl,
Professor & Chair