UBC Sociology thanks Guy Stecklov for his service as Department Head

Dr. Guy Stecklov and Professor Emeritus Neil Guppy

Over the past five years, Department Head Guy Stecklov has led UBC Sociology through a period of unprecedented challenges. A once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic altered how faculty and students were able to learn and grow, requiring a transition into and out of remote learning. During this very challenging time, the sudden loss of our highly respected colleague Professor Sinikka Elliott shocked the Department. However, Dr. Stecklov’s time as Department Head saw the UBC Sociology continue to thrive: welcoming many new faculty members, growing more diverse and inclusive, and rising on the international stage.

We spoke to Guy about his time as Department Head.

Department Head Guy Stecklov

What accomplishments are you the proudest of?

I am very proud of the maturation and growth of our department over the past five years. I have had the privilege to serve as head as a very large number of faculty have progressed in their careers, helping to make the case for tenure and promotions to Full Prof. This is a big responsibility and it’s a pleasure to be part of this process. Alongside this internal maturation, we have made so many great hires over the past few years. Our department is considerably larger with almost half of the faculty having arrived over the past five years. We are not only larger but stronger and broader in terms of our research profiles, while also doing a far better job at reflecting the broad diversity of the student population. We have also worked hard and with care to grow our graduate program in Sociology. Our incoming grad cohorts are nearly twice as large and help to further the intellectual breadth and depth of our department. 

While international program rankings should be taken with a grain of salt, it is great to see that all of this growth and development is recognized by a rise in international rankings. The 2022 QS Rankings placed our department 22nd globally, only one spot behind the University of Toronto. As a group, we can be pleased with this though there’s clearly the capacity to go much higher. 

What were the biggest challenges you encountered?

No one that spent any time in an administrative role over the past two and a half years will likely be able to speak of much else other than the constant adaptations and struggles around COVID-19. Like everyone else, I had personal challenges in dealing with COVID-19. However, headship required one to constantly make efforts to handle not just constantly shifting conditions but also the individual situations and reactions of a large department. From students to staff and faculty – people were facing tough times and unprecedented needs to balance personal and work struggles.

At times people were amazingly resilient, and at times they were fragile. It wasn’t easy to predict who would need support and when. The tragic loss of our colleague, Sinnikka Elliott, hit our department really hard. It was inspiring how so many people stepped up to take on responsibilities and help faculty and students grieve and cope in their time of need.

 What advice do you have for the incoming Department Head?

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s to not get too fazed by fears of doom on the horizon at every decision. Ultimately, this is a very big ship and each decision does not send the ship in a new direction. You can just nudge it a bit in one way or another. In truth, you can only do your best to work with colleagues to make the best decision you can. If you’re lucky, as I was, you’ll get advice from many great colleagues and Associate Heads, as well as a tremendous team of staff headed by a capable and creative manager, which will make your job immensely easier and keep things moving in the right direction. 

What were some of your fondest memories as Department Head?

As Department Head, disagreement is inevitable, sometimes even acrimonious. One of my strongest memories is how our department could find itself in disagreement on an issue one day, but the next show up at a department meeting happily chatting away with excitement about some research plans or shared pride in a student’s success. Disagreement will always occur and is absolutely fine in an academic environment. Being able to put it behind you and move forward is definitely one great gift we can give each other because we will be sharing this department home with our colleagues for a long time.

What do you hope your lasting impact on UBC Sociology will be?

In addition to having been part of this growth and maturation of our department,  I am very proud of the role I played in creating a better functioning and more transparent department. This goes from working to create the Associate Head position, which has been enormously successful, to sharing more authority for committee heads and detailing how service is distributed. These changes become ever more important as we’ve grown so much over the past years. New policies and revised procedures are good changes that will have lasting impacts, and I expect will continue going forward. 

What’s next for you after serving as Department Head?  

I’ve spent much of the past 10 years in administration – both here and at my previous university. That brings many of its own gratifications, but I’m intensely excited to take some time now to explore new research directions. To find that space where new ideas wake you up at night, research questions keeping one immersed in analysis without any notion of the hours flying by, and getting back to that wonderful tingling sensation when results emerge that either conflict with or support your novel hypotheses. That voyage of discovery is a wonderful privilege we have as university professors. Getting back to that while knowing that I’ve been part of this department’s journey over the past five years is great.

It’s made even better knowing that we have our first internal headship transition with Dr. Catherine Corrigall-Brown coming in as our next Department Head. She is a fantastic scholar, as well as a smart and thoughtful leader. She is also the first female Department Head for UBC Sociology. The knowledge that we are in such capable hands leaves me with a great feeling for our department as I step out of this role.