Career Achievement Award recipient William New (left) and Academic of the Year Mark Winston (right)
All photos by Greg Ehlers – SFU Instructional Media Centre
Friends and colleagues gathered at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue on April 11, 2001 to celebrate the achievements of the 2001Distinguished Academics Awards recipients Dr. Mark Winston (Academic of the Year) and Dr. William (Bill) New (Career Achievement Award).
“Professor Winston, as our Academic of the Year, and Professor New, as our Career Achievement Award recipient, are excellent examples of how the community benefits from the academic work in our universities,” said Darwyn Coxson, CUFA/BC President. “Professor Winston’s on-going efforts to explain science and university research to the public, and Professor New’s tireless study and promotion of Canadian literature demonstrate that B.C. universities are integral to the social, cultural and economic life of our province and country.”
The awards ceremony was hosted by Susan McNamee, host of CBC Radio One’s The Afternoon Show. She noted the important contributions of B.C. university professors to CBC radio and television and to the media generally, and the specific contributions of Dr. Winston and Dr. New to the wider society.
CBC Radio One host Susan McNamee shares her thoughts on academics and the media
Mark Winston, a biologist at Simon Fraser University, is well known and respected in academic circles for his study of bees. He also has a keen interest in applying his academic work to “real world” problems, and in 1997 received the Manning Award for Distinction in Innovation jointly with SFU chemist Keith Slessor for their creation of pheromone-based products to increase honey production. On top of all this, Winston is passionate about explaining science, research and the university to the public and has become a regular contributor to the Vancouver Sun on such topics as the ethics of genetic engineering, over-use of chemical pesticides, the public value of scientific innovation, and the need for arts and humanities in science curricula. Professor Winston received the Academic of the Year Award for developing applications of his academic work and for his efforts in promoting understanding of scientific research and universities. An excerpt of his comments at the ceremony can be accessed
(This excerpt from Mark Winston’s comments was originally published in the
Vancouver Sun on April 11, 2001 under the title “Academic, but Feisty”)
A friend off-handedly called me a hopeless academic the other day, and I naively chose to take her depiction as endearing. Perhaps she was being affectionate, but given our culture’s insipid stereotypes about professors it was more likely that she was gently mocking my scholarly demeanor.
We academics like to perceive ourselves as erudite, learned, literary, and important, but down from the ivory tower we’re considered more as eggheads and nerds. Even our beloved dictionaries carp at us, first blandly defining “academic” as “relating to scholarly performance” but then roasting us with “scholarly to the point of being unaware of the outside world, having no practical purpose or use.”
Ouch, unfair, but a common enough perception that university administrators habitually feel compelled to extol the pragmatic benefits of universities to society. And academics do indeed contribute discernible value to virtually every aspect of our economy and culture. Researchers from universities have invented computers and made astounding medical advances, professors in political science have helped to shape our government and laws, criminologists have contributed to police work and prison programs, and faculty in fields such as forestry and biology are helping to preserve our natural resources.
Academics grasp at these tangible achievements when required to justify our scholarly endeavours, but there are deeper, less obvious ways that scholars contribute to the off-campus world. Professors dispense a style of thinking, analysis, reflection, and questioning that enriches every aspect of life around us. Academia through its probing customs improves the human experience by contributing the delights and beneficial consequences of rigorous inquiry to our lives.
Professors are notoriously difficult to keep on task, not because of a communal attention-deficit disorder but due to intense curiousity that drives scholars to probe well beyond the job at hand towards bigger issues. A simple point comes up around the university lunch table, and before long someone begins musing aloud with the telltale phrase that initiates most academic discussions: “I wonder if . . .”
Eventually professors do return to task, but these stimulating diversions through the garden of wondering expand the possibilities in the world around us. In the corporate world, today’s hackneyed mantra is “think outside the box,” but scholars have been expanding that box for millennia. Many breakthroughs resulting in new products or production methods have come from curiousity-driven brainstorming, honed at university and descended from the academic experience.
Academics also go well beyond wondering into testing. The “I wonder” meanderings of scholars are the first step, but one guaranteed to quickly ascend into the “Hmmm, how can we test that?” questions.
Professors invariably follow up curiousity with probing arguments about research methods to examine their speculations. These are harsh discussions, not for the faint-of-heart, but necessary to provide confidence in the validity of an idea or an experimental design. This demand for data to satisfy wondering is a uniquely scholarly addition to human thought, and a signature contribution of the academic process to society.
Another little-appreciated feature of the academic persona is the intensely social nature of university life. The professorial image is one of isolated, socially bankrupt, and disreputably clothed nerds. The clothing part is probably right, but as for socially isolated, hardly.
Academia is a profession of intense human interaction, with laboratory groups, meetings of professional organizations, and an inordinate fondness for late-night, free-ranging debate. Scholars contribute this love of verbal interplay and discussion to our civilization, and by example and interaction further enrich all of us.
Professors can be petty, egotistical, pedantic, and boring, but at its best academia soars beyond minutiae and ego towards higher ideals. There is poetry in an elegant experiment, wisdom in the ordered revealing of patterns through data, and inspiration in the simple truths that emerge from rigorously quantifying the world around us.
If academics have a communal fault it is fear of exposing the emotion underlying scholarly pursuits. What is visible to the public often stops at data and intellect. The cliché of a bookish academic misses the intense feelings evoked by studying nature and human society, and the fierce pleasures derived through inquiry and discovery.
The data and experiments, seminars and colloquia that make up an academic day test hypotheses about the broader world. Professors do contribute many real and measurable benefits through that work, but the excitement behind our research sometimes is obscured by a superficially dry tone.
Yet, when scholars probe well, freely, and passionately, the extraordinary tapestry of nature and the mysteries of the human experience are revealed. In that sense, being called an egghead or a hopeless academic is high praise, indeed.
Academic of the Year Mark Winston (right) receives his award from CUFA/BC President Darwyn Coxson (left) and Ron Tonts of Sun Microsystems of Canada (center)
William New, an English professor at the University of British Columbia, may be little known outside academic circles, but he has had an immeasurable effect on Canadian cultural life. It was Professor New who, in his 1972 book Articulating West, transformed Victorian ideas about literature into a uniquely Canadian perspective on how frontier societies find their own forms of cultural expression. In his 1989 follow-up, The History of Canadian Literature, Professor New tackled the totality of Canadian literature, linking Canadian writing to the country’s history and to other developments in Canadian cultural life-a task that American academics are only now attempting. Professor New has also published two volumes of poetry, including the 1998 book Vanilla Gorilla, a witty collection of children’s verse with distinctly Canadian settings and themes. Professor New received the Career Achievement Award for his pioneering work in the study of Canadian literature and his lifetime of helping Canadians understand themselves through their literature.
First of all I would like to thank the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC–and the sponsors, Sun Microsystems and Pearson Education–for this honour, and for this evening. I would also like to thank my wife, Peggy, and my friends and colleagues (some of whom are here tonight) for their ongoing and enthusiastic support–for of course no ‘career achievement’ happens in isolation, and so I share this award with them, and with the students and other friends with whom I have worked, both here and abroad, over several decades.
Some weeks ago, in another context entirely, I was asked to name the ‘most important’ book I had ever published. I found the question a slightly puzzling one to answer. For like most writers, I think of the book that I’m working on now (about which I’ll say a bit more in a minute) as probably the ‘most important.’ This doesn’t mean that the others are ‘unimportant’–at least I hope it doesn’t mean that–but rather that the current book is the one that preoccupies the mind and that grows out of all the work that’s preceded it. This business of writing and research is a cumulative one; it’s also a process, a kind of dialogue with other scholarship and an outreach into the larger community. It seeks to inform; it also seeks to effect change.
My work has been to study literature in Canada and the English-language literatures of other parts of the Commonwealth–those of Australia and New Zealand, for example, and of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean: a field that is now usually referred to as ‘postcolonial writing.’ Happily, after 40 years, I am still excited by this inquiry. And when I look back to where my enthusiasm began, in a Vancouver highschool classroom, I think I know why.
In the mid-1950s, having recently discovered the virtues of Roget’s Thesaurus, I was provoked, vexed, nettled, irked, and exasperated one day when–yet again–I encountered, as one of the ‘study questions’ at the back end of a textbook, the stern injunction ‘Discuss the role of Our President.’ Well, he wasn’t ‘Our President,’ I said. (I wasn’t keen on Castle Mountain having been renamed Mount Eisenhower either.) The best teachers (and one of my very best teachers was Laurence Peter, the man who later wrote The Peter Principle) broke conventional rules–and so broke away from the constraints of conventional rules–and they taught us by example. The weaker teachers were those that said ‘Oh, just discuss the role of Our Prime Minister instead.’ I knew that this response was inadequate, because it was just a simple substitution; it paid no attention to differences in cultural structure, or context, or priority–or to their ramifications in social practice.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the way the Great Identity Quest has so dominated media generalizations about Canadian culture, my generation was convinced we knew who we were: we were a lot more multi-ethnic and mixed together than our grandparents’ generation had been, for one thing, and not lapsed British or mock American. Most importantly, we were us. So I made one of those Solemn Vows to which adolescents are prone: One day, I said, if I ever have the chance, I’m going to design a Canadian textbook. And I did. I was fortunate, in this activity, to have terrific friends and colleagues to work with: Herbert Rosengarten, Bill Messenger, Jack Hodgins, Kevin McNeilly, Noel Elizabeth Currie. Our challenge was not just to put things together into an anthology and say “That’ll do,” but to go looking for Canadian and other literary works, many of which were still largely unfamiliar to teachers and readers, and to make these works accessible to students of all ages. Partly what we were trying to do was to reshape the contexts within which to read Canadian culture, to read it not merely as an afterthought to Europe or the States but as a culture with values of its own. In so doing, we had to find publishers who were willing to buck the Received Truths about a Restricted Tradition and reach out to difference, to us, and to the young.
Luckily, many readers were eager to find out about Canada, and many publishers at the same time were eager to reach them. They still are. So I regard this work in the field of textbook design as still important, as integral to the other work I do as writer, researcher, teacher, and citizen. I think that, in any one of these roles, each of us has to remember to keep in mind not only the wide world of scholarship to which we contribute, but also the specifically Canadian world of the students whom we serve. And importantly, we have to acknowledge that the need to recognize, affirm, and contextualize the value of Canadian culture is a continuing one. I believe, for example, that we’re at a very critical moment in academic history in Canadian universities: we hear a lot lately about cutting back the number of teachers and creating academic ‘efficiencies’ by adopting more and more systems of ‘electronic delivery.’ If this is all we do, it is the wrong direction to follow, for what it’s doing is saying that a substitute will do. Put in an abstract way, a function cannot adequately or productively replace a process. Put more concretely, a software program, by itself–especially one bought from another society–will uncritically reinscribe the priorities, presumptions, and social values of a particular place and time, and the dimensions of its ignorance. Metaphorically saying ‘Discuss the role of the prime minister instead’ is not enough: it does not feed the spirit of inquiry. For ‘delivery’ is not the same as ‘education’; and a machine–even one that can efficiently deliver routine information and manipulate complex bodies of data–can only be a weak substitute for personal contact, mentoring, and the dynamic of small-group classroom exchange. Our priority should be people. It seems to me that the first universities to break out of their restrictions on hiring–and here I’m going to emphasize hiring in the Arts–will attract the brains of the next generation and be the leading research and teaching university in the country for the next several decades. This is a challenge–to the pocketbook, of course, but also to the imagination.
I was hired into the English Department at UBC in 1965, to set up its Commonwealth Literature courses, and I quickly became involved in the teaching of literature in Canada as part of this enterprise because, almost suddenly, there was enthusiastic demand. A demand, among other things, for basic information: who were Canadian writers, what books had they written? So I got involved in creating reference books–bibliographic guides and literary histories, for example–because students and other readers needed them. This was a time when bookshops kept only a few Canadian books in stock, and generally clumped them all together on a low shelf at the back of the store. Since then, of course, the books have moved from the low shelf to the front window (and out the door!): they are in demand, not simply because they are Canadian but because they happen to be Canadian and are rewarding to read. Locally, nationally, and internationally. The degree to which people all around the world are now familiar with, admire (and academically study) Canadian writers tells of a fascination with these writers and with how they write, about us and about human relationships in general. Some Canadian writers, of course, were known abroad in decades past (Lucy Maud Montgomery, for one, the author of Anne of Green Gables, or Patricia Joudry, who wrote The Aldrich Family for 1940s New York radio), but people who were aware of them didn’t necessarily know they were Canadian. Now they do. International readers, as well as readers in any local book club, know about Hodgins and Tremblay, Carson and Atwood, Richards and Mistry, King and Munro, how to read them, and where they call home.
Home: it is of course an interesting concept in its own right. When I first went to Britain as a graduate student, one of the first things that happened was that I was invited to a British Council party for Foreign Students and told to wear my National Costume. That was then. I’m still not sure exactly what my hosts expected me to wear, but the comment clearly epitomizes a time when Canada was imagined only as a savage, snowy wilderness. Now, Canadian books are in bookstores everywhere; literature is a growth industry; Canadian culture clearly has something to say to the world; and it’s been an extraordinary experience to have helped to make this change happen. In part by teaching and publishing (activities that I have always found to be closely related to each other)–I am intensely proud of the many graduate students who have worked with me, and who are now themselves teachers and writers, all over the world. In part, too, by speaking about Canadian culture overseas, and (at home) by encouraging the community at large–through the Vancouver Institute, for example, and through the New Canadian Library–to find themselves in Canadian books and to take pleasure in the accomplishments of the writers whom Canada has fostered.
This means, of course, that we have to take account of the multiplicities inside Canadian cultural history. What becomes clear in this context is the relevance to the study of Canada of the rich literatures of the South Pacific; South and Southeast Asia; East, West, & Southern Africa; and the nations of the Caribbean. For these societies–not just those of Europe and the USA–are also contexts for understanding here and home. No longer do vast generalizations about the uniformity of Canadian cultural heritage make sense (if indeed they ever did); the point is that the Canadian literary voice is plural, not singular; that literature is at once a medium of social observation and an agency of social change; and that the cultural negotiations that take place daily in Canadian lives find expression also in Canadian writing.
When the critical quarterly Canadian Literature began at UBC in 1959, one of the arch jokes that circulated at the time was ‘Is there any?’ A variant asked: ‘What will you do in the second issue?’ Amusing as these comments might be in retrospect, what they expressed was not a commitment to high art as opposed to low (though that was the inference one was expected to draw) but an attitude of mind that Australians refer to as ‘cultural cringe.’ The people who at one time said such things were uninformed, or else afraid–afraid especially of being thought ‘wrong,’ or ‘popular’-and-therefore-‘unsophisticated.’ This attitude was nonsensical, and sad, but by no means rare. I found it instructive, then, to join the editorial staff of Canadian Literature in the late 1960s: a privilege to work with and learn from George Woodcock and Donald Stephens, and to find out what was really happening at the forefront of literary endeavour. Put simply, the journal helped attitudes to change. By the time I took over as editor of Canadian Literature in the 1970s, critical methodologies had also altered, and with them the kinds of inquiry into literary practice and cultural value that had come to be necessary. So publishing continued to be an extension of teaching, a kind of outreach into understanding; and I wrote other kinds of book as well–about what the ‘West’ means in Canada, about why Canadians write so many short story sequences and what this says about flexibility of social connection, about First Nations writing, about how to read, about what we understand when we talk about the land as ‘picturesque’ or use such terms as ‘wilderness,’ ‘property,’ ‘region,’ and ‘field.’ At this point I’d like also to acknowledge Brenda and David McLean for their foresight and generosity in supporting studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences; during the two years that I held the Brenda and David McLean Chair in Canadian Studies at UBC, I had the further opportunity to work across academic disciplines, and to reflect on why Canadians are preoccupied with borders–why we hold fast to borderlines and negotiate borderlands–and why we write repeatedly in ironic metaphor.
I’ve suggested that these inquiries all grew out of my objections to the colonizing tendencies of a highschool textbook. Of course a lot of other experiences have entered into the equation, including a passion for the environment that probably started in my father’s garden, and the sheer excitement of discovery that comes from any inquiry into unknown territory–the stir of enthusiasm when reality meets imagination: in language as in life. I think, for example, that these impulses–to celebrate both language and the land–came together in Land Sliding, my book about ‘space, presence, and power’ in Canadian writing. I know the book relates somehow to my undergraduate training in geomorphology; it probably also has something to do with the summer job I had between the ages of 19 and 23, when I worked for a mining exploration company, tramped over much of British Columbia, and learned something practical about rock formations, mineral deposits, and staking claims. That kind of exploration had a metaphoric counterpart later when I came to work in library archives and to began to tramp happily through literary history. I wanted to place questions of utility and resource demand in cultural context, read them alongside those of political and aesthetic territoriality. For I’ve come to recognize that a society is a process in which technology and the arts, science and human relations, economics and political ambitions and assorted systems of desire and belief all touch: that’s why the arts are not merely relevant in contemporary society but integral to its continuity, and why it’s important and exciting to recognize the effective power of words.
But I hasten to add that I think that another source for my writing came from a fortune cookie. At a social gathering, once, everyone else’s fortune cookie said things like ‘Wealth will come to the worthy’ and ‘Happiness is within your reach.’ Mine said: “Finish projects.”
Easily said. But one of the enjoyments of writing is that there’s always another project, and the one that I’m currently working to finish–it’s scheduled to be published later this year–is a large, one-volume book, aimed at both academics and the general reader, called Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada. I guess it’s the sort of book that one should always attempt close to retirement, for it testifies not only to the past but also to the continuity of discovery. As the etymology of the word ‘encyclopedia’ explains, it is a ‘course in general education.’ Which is, I suppose, another way of defining the word ‘career.’ The book is now over 2000 pages in typescript, has in it as many separate entries, some long, some very short, and (as I seem to have started retelling ‘The Three Bears’ here) some in between. It has involved 300 contributors altogether (not all of them academics, but those who are come from different disciplines: literature, anthropology, women’s studies, linguistics, librarianship, law), and it aims to be up-to-date, accurate (according to the latest research), and more comprehensive than anything else ever published in the field. It addresses subjects that are obviously literary, such as genres and literary terms, language and the publishing industry, humour and book design, literature in the unofficial languages of Canada and the oral literatures of the First Nations; it also deals with libel and copyright law, censorship and journalism, popular culture, petroglyphs, and the socioliterary issues raised by such subjects as gender, race, region, religion, nationalism, science, the media, and the other arts. There are also numerous biocritical entries. So in the process of compiling the book, I have found out fascinating details about the lives of literally hundreds of absorbing writers–one who was born on a trapline, one who went to school with Greta Garbo, one who wrote that old staple of Saturday matinees The Perils of Pauline, one who wrote The Flying Nun, one who claimed that his father was a ‘racketeer, crime lord, and concert pianist,’ and one who claimed kinship with Queen Victoria. I also found out about several hoaxes and at least two cases of fraud. Who said Canadian culture was bland?
One of Earle Birney’s much-anthologized poems represents Canada as a ‘case history’–talks of it as a ‘highschool land, dead set in adolescence’; Birney later rewrote this observation, musing that the nation had shifted from adolescence to senescence without any maturity in between. It’s a nicely balanced sardonic satire. But it’s too easy, I think, to accept the comment either as permanently true or else as a pointed but inconsequential irony, one that can safely be put into an anthology and set aside. I think, in fact–and in retrospect–that it’s been one of the concerns of my career so far to try to make sure that Birney’s social diagnosis can no longer be accepted as valid. For I want not only to hang on as long as I can to that spirit of enthusiasm I had in high school, but also to foster it in the next generation, and to emphasize how important it is, in society at large, to read widely, read well, read critically, and read between the lines. I hope, too, that my work has helped to encourage others to keep reading Canadian literature, to keep writing in order to keep on finding out how words work, and to celebrate the fact that reading and writing are serious activities in which people can still have fun.
At the Distinguished Academics Awards ceremony on April 11, 2001, host Susan McNamee read the following poem from William New’s 1998 book of verse for children, Vanilla Gorilla.
I’M SO HAPPY I COULD HOP TO HALIFAX
I WANT TO BE A BUCCANEER
WHEN HALLOWE’EN IS HERE
I WANT TO RAID THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
AND BE A MUTINEER
I WANT TO BE A PIRATE
WHO IS TERRIBLY SEVERE
I’M SO HAPPY I COULD HOP TO HALIFAX
I WANT TO FLY THE SKULL AND BONES
AND BE A BUGABOO
I WANT TO BE A PIRATE
WITH A TERRIBLE TATTOO
I WANT A CASE OF CANDYBARS
WHEN HALLOWE’EN IS THROUGH
I’M SO HAPPY I COULD HOP TO HALIFAX.
COPYRIGHT © 1998 WILLIAM NEW
Career Achievement Award recipient William New (right) receives his award from Samee Ali of Pearson Education Canada (left) and CUFA/BC President Darwyn Coxson (center)
This is the seventh year the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia (CUFA/BC) has given awards to recognize excellence in the contributions of academic work to the wider community. The Academic of the Year Award was established in 1995 as a means to highlight the accomplishments of the academic staff of B.C. public universities. In 1999, the Career Achievement Award was added and the awards became collectively known as the Distinguished Academics Awards. Dr. Winston and Dr. New each received a cheque for $2,000 and a specially commissioned trophy.
2001 Distinguished Academics Awards Sponsored by