Every day I am astonished by the loyalty of our faculty and staff and how they will go the extra mile because they believe in this institution.
Lesley Cormack

Dean of Faculty of Arts reappointed

Lesley Cormack set to continue championing a liberal arts education.


(Edmonton) Lesley Cormack has been re-appointed as dean of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts for a second five-year term, effective July 1, 2016, following a one-year earned administrative leave.

“Dr. Cormack has guided the faculty through a great deal of change and has been an articulate and respected voice for the Faculty of Arts,” said Olive Yonge, interim provost and vice-president (academic). “She has provided leadership on a number of issues including the budget, the administrative reorganization in arts and the quality of undergraduate and graduate programs. She is committed to effective and innovative teaching, recognizing this as a core strength of the Faculty of Arts. Dr. Cormack has led a drive to enhance and diversify international recruitment in the faculty. She is a strong scholar and a passionate advocate of faculty and student research.”

Cormack is an historian of science, interested in the history of geography and mathematics in early modern England and Europe. She has been dean of arts since 2010 and is currently the president of the Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science. Cormack was previously dean of arts and social sciences at Simon Fraser University (2007–2010). Prior to that, she spent 17 years at the U of A as a professor, taking on associate chair (2000-2002) and chair (2003-2007) roles with the Department of History and Classics. Cormack holds a master of arts and PhD, both from the University of Toronto.


Despite facing challenges in her first term stemming from reductions in the provincial budget, Cormack was able to re-organize and centralize resources to keep the diversity and competitiveness of arts degrees at a high level by leading the development of a robust suite of experiential learning opportunities for students. Some of those initiatives include expanded community service-learning opportunities, a partnership with business in the creation of the student entrepreneur network e-HUB, as well as access to experiences abroad and an enhanced co-op program.

Cormack initiated the Arts Work Experience Program as a pilot project three years ago and is now in the process of ramping up so it can sustain 350 student placements a year, as well as accreditation as a BA co-op program.

“Going forward I want to ensure that all these initiatives are appropriately resourced so that they will be open to all of our students,” said Cormack. “This will allow us to promote our traditionally strong bachelor of arts degree as a destination for students from all over the province and all over the world looking for the tools they need to have meaningful careers as engaged citizens.”

She adds, “We want to continue to show that a University of Alberta BA provides the exact skills that employers want and need, while honouring the importance of the liberal arts. Researchers in the social sciences, humanities and fine arts have an extremely important role to play in addressing and solving the complex issues that face humanity.”

Cormack says this focus on skill development will also apply to graduate students in the arts.

“We need to rethink what skills we are giving to students as they go through graduate studies and what kind of careers they should and could have,” she said. “Graduate students need professional development to provide them with skills and experience that go beyond their obvious academic skills.”

Cormack noted that examining how technology can improve the student experience remains a top priority, as is continuing to recruit the best people.

“Over the years, we have hired some of the smartest, most committed and engaged scholars and teachers imaginable,” said Cormack of her faculty, which she says is only as good as its people. “Every day I am astonished by the loyalty of our faculty and staff and how they will go the extra mile because they believe in this institution.”

Her overarching goals of espousing the virtues of arts degrees at every opportunity, and completing the task of finding financial stability for her faculty, come down to having everyone working towards the same vision.

“I want everyone at this university to feel like we are all doing the same job, which is to supply an excellent education to our undergraduate and graduate students, and to advance research for the betterment of society. I do think uplifting the whole people is a noble goal, one that the university’s first president, Henry Marshall Tory, took seriously and that the university community takes seriously today.”

Lise Gotell, professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies and vice-dean of arts, has agreed to serve as acting dean in the Faculty of Arts during Cormack’s earned administrative leave.