Q and A with our new Dean

Including a short Proustian questionnaire

We are delighted to share with alumni and friends that Professor Sheila Ager became the new Dean of Arts on July 1, 2019. Dean Ager has been a faculty member at Waterloo since 1987, and is a full professor in the Department of Classical Studies. She brings extensive knowledge and experience to the Dean’s office, having served her department, the Faculty and the University in numerous leadership roles over the years. Just as the fresh paint in her new office was drying, we asked Dean Ager a few questions.

How does it feel to be the new Dean of Arts?

I’m excited by the challenge, eagerly anticipating the opportunities, and looking forward to doing everything I can to assist the Faculty in moving forward at a time when we’re all facing both challenges and opportunities. I’ve been a member of UW and of this Faculty for a long time (three decades!), and I’ve seen a lot of change and learned many things about the operation of this institution over the years. But as I’ve prepared to take on the Dean’s role, I’ve also been very conscious of how much I still have to learn. I know I’ll be calling on faculty, staff, students, and alums alike to tell me about their ideas, their concerns, and their hopes.

What would you like to learn from alumni and friends?

I think one of the first things I’d like to learn from our alumni and friends is what it is that they treasure about the institution, and about the Faculty of Arts. Why did you choose UW Arts in the first place? Why do you still stay in touch? What motivates you to give back to the institution? But I’d also like to learn what ideas you might have about how we can do things even better. This group of individuals has a unique and significant perspective: if you’re an alum, you have a firsthand, in-depth experience of our programs and how they’ve prepared you for life and career. And if you’re a donor – whether or not you’re an alum – you have made the generous decision to invest in the Faculty of Arts, and I’d like to hear from you why you think that investment is important and meaningful.

What are your top goals for this first year as Dean?

My top goals for my first year in the position could best be described as follows: (i) don’t screw up; (ii) if you do screw up, fix it; (iii) if you screw up and can’t fix it, beg for mercy and understanding; (iv) if you screw up, can’t fix it, and nobody has any sympathy, at least try to learn from it.

More seriously, I think it’s extremely important for me to deepen my understanding of the many components that make up the Faculty in order for me to have the holistic view that’s necessary to carrying out the work of a Dean. Beyond my own learning processes, however, one of the most pressing needs this first year is the development of a new strategic plan for the Faculty (our current plan ends this year). The process of creating a new strategic plan will be a collaborative one, and I believe that as we work towards this goal, we (the Faculty as a whole, including an alumni advisory group) will have the opportunity to review, assess, and renew our shared goals and aspirations.

Sheila and colleague Tim

Sheila Ager, with friend and colleague Dr. Tim Howe, on a recent trip to Portugal just before taking the reins as Dean of Arts. 

(Proustian Qs)

What is your idea of happiness?

Laughter with friends and loved ones, especially the uncontrollable kind (the laughter, not the loved ones).

What is your idea of misery?

Failing people. Any people.

Who are your favourite fictional or historical characters?

Scout (Jean Louise) Finch. Elizabeth Bennett. Simon in Lord of the Flies. Quellek. Brienne of Tarth, Sandor Clegane, Ser Bronn, Tyrion Lannister, Samwell Tarly, Lady Olenna Tyrell (sorry). Demelza Poldark. Betsey Trotwood. Ellen Ripley. Bridget Jones. Marge Gunderson (and Norm Gunderson).

I’ll let those who read this profile reach their own conclusions about why I’m drawn to these characters. Some move me; some inspire me; and I am a sucker for anyone who can make me laugh.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

How much room do I have? :-)

I come from a musical family; I myself sing and play the piano. The fact that both these activities take place behind closed doors, with the windows shut and no one else in the house, should indicate that I actually don’t have these talents, but I would really like to have them…

Sometimes I read what strikes me as a perfect novel (Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) or a perfect short story (Ray Bradbury’s “The October Game”), and I wish that I had written them. Sometimes it’s a perfect poem (Archibald MacLeish’s “Epistle To Be Left in the Earth”), and I feel the same way. Strangely, I never find myself thinking, “I wish that was me,” when watching hockey or baseball or soccer. Or golf.

I guess that says something about me.