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Alumni: Giving U of T more reasons to be proud


An Extraordinary Record of Service to the University wins Professor Elizabeth M. Smyth a 2016 Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award

Elizabeth M. Smyth

In more than 25 years at the University of Toronto, Professor Elizabeth M. Smyth (EdD 1990) has served on an astounding array of committees as well as on Governing Council and currently serves as Vice-Dean, Programs at the School of Graduate Studies. For her lengthy and extraordinary contributions, she has been awarded one of two Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Awards.

Professor Smyth is an outstanding scholar and historian, but her curriculum vitae also includes three pages of administrative appointments and committee duties – single spaced – and those are only the highlights. It is fortunate, and not surprising, that she is such a big fan of team work. “I really think that I work most effectively when I work as part of a team,” she says.

For example, when asked about her proudest administrative achievements, she talks about other people. “The committee to appoint the current President of U of T was the best committee that I have ever served on in my life,” she says. “Committee Chair David Wilson, Governing Council Chair and Vice Chair, Richard Nunn and Judy Goldring set an excellent tone”

Professor Smyth’s leadership at U of T has been exemplary. She joined the University in 1988 as a tutor at University of Toronto Schools, and became a faculty member at OISE in 1989, appointed to the Northwestern Field Centre in Thunder Bay. Early on she began taking on volunteer roles at U of T, such as serving on the National Scholars Selection Committee. Since then she has served as Chair for the OISE/UT Admissions, Award and Program Committee, Associate Chair of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Acting Director of the Initial Teacher Education Program and Acting Director of the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI). She has also participated on OISE’s Committee on Governance and the Special Joint Advisory Committee on Tenure and Promotion, as well as serving as Vice-Chair to the Faculty Council at OISE.

Currently, Professor Smyth is in her eighth year as an elected member of U of T’s Governing Council. She has served on multiple Governing Council committees, including the Executive Committee, the Committee for Honorary Degrees, the Academic Board, Academic Appeals Committee, the Academic Policy and Program Committee and the President’s Advisory Committees on a number of senior University appointments.

What is behind this remarkable record of service and volunteerism? “I think it is very important to give back,” she says. “I’m an immigrant. My parents came to Canada from Ireland in search of better opportunities and Canada has been very good to me. I think that there’s both a responsibility that we have to give back, and a great opportunity for learning.”

In her scholarly work, Professor Smyth studies women in religion, specifically nuns and sisters in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. In her office, pride of place goes to a shelf crammed with “TNS – Tacky Nun Stuff,” she says with a laugh. “There is a Nunzilla, a little wind-up toy that breathes fire. There is Sister B. Attitude, whose habit is adorned with a feather boa. There’s a ‘Nuns Having Fun’ calendar.”

Many of the gifts come from the women she studies, who share her sense of humour – which is one of the things Professor Smyth lists as essential for successful committee work. “Mutual respect, commitment to the goal, active engagement of all members as encouraged by the chair,” she says. “And good humor and having fun! I think that having a really good sense of humour is important to make life go well.” And clearly, it also contributes to the making of a good University citizen.

The Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award was created on the occasion of Vivek Goel’s departure from his role as Vice-President and Provost of the University of Toronto in 2008. It recognizes exemplary University faculty who have a sustained record of administrative contributions and this year two distinguished faculty members are being honoured with this award. It is presented each year under the banner of the Awards of Excellence, a program recognizing the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.

Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.

Professor Elizabeth Smyth and the other 2016 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a recognition event on May 4.