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Greetings from Dean Elizabeth Dawes

Thinking Extinction, November 14, 2013, Vale Living with Lakes Centre

The risk of extinction is never far from my mind. Some species carry biological traits that make them prone to extinction. I myself carry one such trait. In August 2007, when the National Geographic reported that less than 2% of the world's population were redheads, journalists around the world rushed to declare that redheads would be extinct by 2060. It didn't sound good at all. It was particularly bad news for the four redheads in my family born since the year 2000. My professional niche turned out to be a second risk factor. As a student of lndoEuropean and Romance philology at the University of Montreal, I didn't realize until it was too late that I was one of the last graduates of a dying discipline - one that has since been pushed out of the academy by invasive species like sociology and other like-minded social sciences, the dusty medieval texts in the Dewey decimal collection now relegated to the bowels of the library storage system to be retrieved, only upon special request, by grim-faced mortuary attendants. Relying on my valuable, transferable skills that are the hallmark of a Humanities education, I sought refuge in a deanery. As I left my former position, the HR director offered one last piece of advice: "Get them to put you on the bargaining team." My training in philology - the study of the historical evolution of language, the comparative analysis of languages with a common ancestor such as Latin, the reconstruction of medieval texts based on the available manuscripts - all of this had been nothing if not excellent preparation for reading and interpreting the
Collective Agreement. Was Laurentian's bilingual Collective Agreement with its

byzantine complexity not as worthy of study as the Oaths of Strasbourg of 842, both documents recording pledges made at strategic meetings, both written in one Germanic language and one Romance language? My role of Dean turned out to be a third risk factor. No sooner had I taken up my position than I received disturbing news from a sessional attending a conference in Scotland. In 1470, several students and faculty at St. Andrew's University had

attempted to kill the Dean with bows and arrows. I learned that, for insurance purposes, Deans fall into the same category as participants in extreme sports. Extreme sports are said to have a "high level of inherent danger", "to be more solitary than traditional sports" and to present a "higher number of inherently uncontrollable variables". If I was to participate in a sport, extreme or otherwise, I needed a mascot. I quickly settled on the polar bear and put a few fine specimens on display in my office. Bred in captivity, their numbers multiplied rapidly- my office was soon overflowing with stuffed bears and carved bears, bears on plates and bears on cups, bears on cards, keychains, books and calendars. "What's with the bears?", faculty would ask when entering my office. "What's with the faculty members?", the bears would ask after the faculty had left my office. It didn't take me long to realize that I was in serious danger of losing my faculties. The very existence of the Humanities and Social Sciences was said to be threatened - dwindling enrolments, shrinking budgets, a declining faculty complement. It didn't sound good at all. If philology was gone from the University of Montreal, could philosophy at Laurentian be far behind? In my book - a dictionary - all that stood between philology and philosophy were a few obscure and archaic words like philomathy and philopatry. Worried that our Department of Philosophy was indeed on the brink of extinction, I rushed to consult the latest Laurentian University Calendar but - alas - the Calendar itself had become extinct in 2006. My long-suffering secretaries then hastened to reassure me that we still had, not one, but two philosophy departments on campus. A pair of philosophy departments? Was this a breeding pair or a pair threatened with extinction? In the end, I was relieved to discover that our prized flock of philosophers was not at risk, far from it. We are very proud of our philosophers and very pleased to welcome you here today. Enjoy the conference. Thank you.