Thomas Carmichael prepares to wrap up tenure as Dean
Thomas Carmichael took on the role of Dean in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies in 2007. Before coming to FIMS, he had been Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities. He had also served as Acting Director of the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism and as Vice-Chair of Western’s Department of English.
Professor Carmichael has served in his current role through two terms (with a one-year administrative research leave), and he will complete his tenure as Dean of FIMS on June 30th of this year. As of July 1, 2018, he will return fully to teaching and research.
Dean Carmichael recently shared some reflections on his time in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, and what he hopes to see for FIMS in the future as the Faculty prepares to welcome a new Dean.
What are you primarily focused on for your remaining time as Dean?
"I will be focused on a number of things. Keep in mind that Dean’s terms have defined limits; they are measured by the academic year and by the University’s multi-year planning cycles. The wider life of the Faculty, by contrast, knows a whole series of different rhythms, some governed by short-term tasks and processes, others by a longer durée, and still others by unpredictable and unforeseen events and contingent circumstances. Nevertheless, there are projects that have definite end dates, and some things I will continue to work on will be completed by the end of my term: the ALA accreditation review of our MLIS program is a good example of that.
There are also a number of initiatives that I am working on with Pam McKenzie (Associate Dean, Graduate & Postdoctoral), Susan Knabe (Associate Dean, Undergraduate), Sharon Sliwinski (Graduate Programs Director), Jacquie Burkell (Assistant Dean, Research), and with faculty and staff more widely that will extend far beyond my term. We still have infrastructure to put into our new building. We have program initiatives on the undergraduate side and at the graduate level, including recruitment, that will be ongoing. Along with our Alumni & Development Officer, Tracy Fawdry, I will also continue to work with our alumni thoughout the remainder of my term. Since Tracy’s appointment in September, we have been much more active with alumni, and that will of course extend beyond my tenure. In addition, I will be focusing on the transition to a new Dean, once that selection process is complete."
Will you play a role in helping the new Dean to find their feet?
"Yes, absolutely. I look forward to working with the successful candidate to ensure we have a smooth transition. But it really will be a collective effort, one that in fact has indirectly already been underway. Over the past four or five years, FIMS has been subject to a whole series of program reviews, and all the time that everyone has spent – staff and faculty - in the last few years developing the program reviews we’re required to do - all of that information is now poised to help the new Dean construct the next Faculty Plan. When it comes to the specifics of the Dean’s role – and Western is large and complex institution – I will certainly do all I can to provide the necessary information and background, so the next Dean can feel reasonably informed and confident sitting at this desk on day one. Not that a successful candidate will need my help, but I know all of us at FIMS will want to work to ensure a successful transition."
Are there any events, projects or initiatives from your time as Dean that are particularly memorable for you?
"I think that many people here, if they were asked that question, would point to our new building, the FIMS & Nursing building. Certainly, it’s something of a landmark and a landmark moment: the new building was nine years in the making, and I’m pleased to recognize, as many of my colleagues have observed, how several of the major themes identified and endorsed in our earliest consultations found their way into the final design. The new space has of course been a change for everybody, and as I’ve remarked on more than one occasion, one needs to learn to live in a new space, and that does take time. But the new building is also very much a sign that the university sees FIMS as important to its overall mission, and so in that respect it has certainly been both materially, and symbolically, a moment. A long moment.
So yes, the building. But the rationale for the building, and the reason that the university is committed to FIMS, is to be found in all the things that we do and have done in terms of research, curriculum, and engagement. In those areas, there are many, many memorable things that stand out over the past decade.
When I reflect on it, I’m struck by how often in the past decade my colleagues have led FIMS initiatives that were “Western-first,” and really have led the institution. I am thinking here – and these are only a few examples – of the Digital Labour group from a few years ago, or the Organizing Equality conference in 2017, of all the work we’ve done in health information science, and all work internationally and in engaging the local community. There are also some more recent areas where we’ve been well-positioned to offer expertise, and the work of some of our colleagues addressing the fake news phenomenon is perhaps a good example of that.
We have also made major changes to our programs over the past ten years. The MIT of 2018, for example, is the product of a whole series of reforms launched before the end of my first term by then Associate Dean, Nick Dyer-Witheford, and carried forward by our current Associate Dean, Susan Knabe. On the undergraduate side, we’ve also transformed our relationship with Fanshawe College. We are now building a production stream here that will enhance MIT, and that work will continue. On the graduate side, we reconfigured our Journalism program, and we’ve started and fostered new graduate programs, collaborative programs in Health Information Science and in Popular Music & Culture. More broadly, we’ve opened up to external partners, and are now partnering with Library and Archives Canada - Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, as well as with TVO. The Faculty’s administrative structure has also evolved along with these changes, and is certainly very different from what it was in 2007."
What would you like to see for FIMS in the future?
"My hope is that FIMS, through a program of faculty renewal, continues to mature and to expand its role in the University, in the disciplinary and interdisciplinary communities aligned with our research, and in the wider public sphere. We can look forward next year to a probationary hire and the selection of a research chair, and, based on that, I see us poised on the cusp of an entire program of faculty renewal to support the Faculty’s aspirations.
Additionally, I think that all would agree that FIMS has played a larger and larger role at the university over the past 10 years, and I would hope that trajectory would continue. In one sense, it might appear that an expanded role is inevitable: Information and Media Studies are, after all, so evidently central to the fabric of contemporary lived experience. But I would also hope that the Faculty would continue to innovate. Remember that FIMS is a project that’s just 20 years old, and much of what it is now is the product of the creativity, insights, innovations and goodwill of its current people, faculty and staff. I hope that commitment continues and that my colleagues continue to build on all that they have made possible."
If any alumni would like to connect with the Faculty prior to the end of Professor Carmichael's tenure as Dean on June 30, 2018, please contact our Alumni & Development Officer, Tracy Fawdry, at: email@example.com.