Ettore Damiano’s remarks on developments in the department over the last year
It has been a challenging year for students, faculty and staff. The Covid-19 pandemic brought to a halt in March to all in-person events in the department and the University. Course instructors showed great resiliency, racing, with a weekend’s notice, to adapt their course content and structure to fit the online delivery framework. Administrative functions were similarly moved online, with staff performing their tasks remotely from home. After six months we are now all used to online seminars and meetings and have become familiar with a multitude of tools to interact online. We have learned a lot over the last six months, faculty and staff as much as students. Working or studying in a higher education institution like U of T is intrinsically collaborative and we all had to adapt to collaborating virtually. Some of the changes we were compelled to implement will turn out to be very effective, and much of the new technology faculty are investigating will prove productive. While it is easy to predict that the pandemic will have a lasting and transformative impact on the higher education sector, it is difficult to anticipate its boundaries.
The understandable attention on the pandemic and its effect on everyone’s lives should not make us forget the progress we have made over this past year. From that perspective, this year’s newsletter is particularly meaningful as it offers an excellent overview of the many things we managed to accomplish despite COVID-19. And we do have many reasons to celebrate. Our recruiting effort set what I believe is a new record and we will be adding ten (10) new faces to the department faculty roster. Starting this fall term: Yanyou Chen, a graduate of Duke University working in Industrial Organization; Olga Denislamova, a macroeconomist from UC San Diego; two graduates of the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, Abdollah Farhoodi and Nazanin Khazra, working in urban economics and machine learning applications; Marlène Koffi from the University of Montreal specializing in deep learning and AI applications to public policy and inequality problems; Eva Vivalt, a Berkley graduate and former assistant professor at the Australian National University, specializes in labour economics; a specialist in health economics, our own graduate Courtney Ward rejoins the department after ten years as faculty at Dalhousie; and finally Roman Zarate, a development economist and MIT graduate is a hire from last year’s search cycle and joins the UTM department this year after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the briq Institute. Michael Stepner, a public finance economist and MIT graduate, is the ninth junior hire this year but he will not join the department ranks until next July, after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. We were also very successful in our senior search. I am delighted that Gabriel Carroll, a renowned microeconomic theorist and a tenured faculty member at Stanford University, has accepted our offer to join the department at the associate professor rank. Gabriel will be starting on January 1, 2021.
Our successes in recruiting should not overshadow the accomplishments of our faculty and students. It has been another strong year with, among others, two prestigious Canadian Economic Association prizes awarded to our faculty. Yoram Halevy is the recipient of the John Rae Prize and Phil Oreopoulos is the winner of the Doug Purvis Memorial Prize. Our faculty dedication in the classroom was recognized with a Faculty of Arts & Science Outstanding Teaching Award for Gillian Hamilton. The newsletter also provides a nice overview on the research contributions of our faculty on the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Before I conclude my remarks, I want to mention and thank Miquel Faig and Gustavo Indart for their service and dedication to the economics department’s mission over their long careers at U of T. Miquel and Gustavo started their well deserved retirement on July 1 of this year.
Finally, I take this opportunity to thank all the staff and faculty of the department for their collegiality and support over the past 12 months.
A modest amount of in-person activity is restarting in the department, with some faculty and graduate students moving back into their offices (with a long list of rules and restrictions to ensure a safe environment for all). I know we are all eager to reconnect with one other in person and for a gradual but eventually full recommencement of the rich and vibrant academic life for which the Department of Economics – and the University of Toronto as a whole – is so widely recognized. Whether in person or virtually, I look forward to working with everyone in this new academic year as we pull together to overcome the challenges that may yet lie ahead.