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Alumni: Giving U of T more reasons to be proud


Professor Brian Corman receives the Faculty Award

There can a scholarly upside to long service as a dean and department chairman.

“Had I published the book 15 or 20 years earlier, I probably would have met with greater resistance,” Brian Corman, winner of the 2015 Faculty Award, says of his 2008 volume Women Novelists before Jane Austen: The Critics and their Canons.

“But in part because of my administrative work, it took some time to finish the study. The positive reviews indicate that my colleagues were by then prepared for a more complex narrative than the simple one of patriarchy keeping women down. My study does not dismiss that narrative where it is relevant, but it complicates it by historicizing it.”

Women Novelists represented a step away from Professor Corman’s established bailiwick of Restoration and 18th-century drama. But it was typical of a career of unusual range and energy that has done much to advance the humanities at the University of Toronto. Professor Corman has written scores of articles, reviews and encyclopedia entries and worked as the editor of important anthologies.

From 1996 to 2009, while serving as Chair of the Department of English, he was the editor of the University of Toronto Quarterly, one of the most prestigious general literary journals in Canada. He has organized international conferences, served on journal boards and done extensive refereeing. Students speak glowingly of his clarity and commitment as a teacher.

Despite all these activities, Professor Corman has served with distinction in many administrative positions, including Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost, Graduate Education from 2009-2014, during which period he instituted important changes with wisdom and tact. He chaired the Sedra Award Committee for five years and served on the Academic Board of Governing Council for 16 years, including six years as its Vice-Chair. His experience has led to service on many tenure and promotion reviews, chair and dean searches and external reviews of English departments elsewhere.

Are the humanities in general and English in particular going through a rough patch? There is much stress these days on the so-called STEM fields.

“The Humanities are under siege in many universities, usually because of external pressure fuelled by the media’s love of a gloomy story. But after 45 years, I’ve seen this before and don’t believe it won’t pass. Nor is the problem as severe in terms of student interest as it was in the 80s.

Our enrolments are still second in the Faculty of Arts & Science. The English Department has never been better, and we continue to hire outstanding young scholars. We continue to have wonderful students, both undergraduate and graduate. So, I remain cautiously optimistic!”