Opinion: Farewell Letter to My Provost

Mireille Rebeiz, Associate Professor of Francophone Studies & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

As our beloved Provost, Neil Weissman, announced his retirement, I panicked. I realized that I am still waiting for his response to ten of my emails from 2020, nine emails from 2021, and six emails from this week alone. 

I could not understand why he is leaving our faculty, for we are a very pleasant bunch who never complain. How could anyone want to leave our lovely quiet selves? 

One look at Neil, and I realized he has been plotting his departure for a while. He has been seen briskly walking, exercising everywhere with training montage music on, going up and down the stairs of Old West looking fit and all, to sprint out of here and never look back. Smart move, Neil! Very smart! 

I believe his training started in 2020. According to an eyewitness, AKA Chief of Staff and Secretary of the College Karen Faryniak, “Neil single-handedly ensured the security of Old West by coming into the office every day during pandemic lockdown…withstanding frigid temperatures while everyone else was at home!” I wonder if Neil plans to retire in a cold place like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Located in the mountains, miles and miles away from Metropolis, the Fortress of Solitude is a place of reflection and relaxation away from civilization – where there is certainly not one complaining faculty/student/staff in sight. It is either this, or perhaps he is planning a trip with our colleague and Professor of Earth Sciences and Moraine Chair in Arctic Studies, Ben Edwards, to the Canadian Arctic. My money is on the first option – how else explain Neil’s commitment to Dickinson and daily presence in a cold office during a lockdown? He was training, I tell you! 

His training for retirement was so rigorous that he never wanted to stop and chat. When spotting a faculty member, Neil would abruptly change direction. Better for the heart and digestion I was told. To be fair, I ambushed Neil a couple of times and intruded on his walks to talk shop. I am fairly certain he changed his route after that and started avoiding certain streets. 

God knows I had my differences with Neil. The most recent one was about my Facebook post where I complained about Dickinson. Neil did not like it, and we descended into a discussion on the constitutional right of freedom of speech. Joking aside, I truly enjoyed working with Neil for his open heart, dedication to Dickinson, and lack of artifice and pretense. I could tell when Neil was annoyed with me; he would sigh, cross his arms, lift his eyebrows and start the sentence saying “look…”. When I saw this, I knew he either disagreed or that I was in trouble. Despite it all, I learned from Neil’s wisdom. For that, I am grateful. 

As our Senior Associate Provost of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Catrina Hamilton-Drager said, “he has always been a guiding force…I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much from him. He has been a true mentor to me. I will miss him in that role.” 

As England misses its Queen, we shall miss our Provost Neil Weissman. I am terrified of whoever will replace him. As the saying goes, better the Red Devil you know! 

Au revoir, Neil! Enjoy your well-deserved retirement. And if you end up in the Arctic, please send pictures! 

PS: please expect an email from me Fall 2027; I will be applying for full-professorship, and I would like a letter of support. Thanks in advance! 

 

Mireille Rebeiz, Ph.D. 

Associate Professor of Francophone Studies & Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies.