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‘A great mentor’: Thomas Waugh retires after 4 decades at Concordia

On June 10, attend a symposium honouring the beloved prof who broke new ground for sexual representation in film and beyond
June 6, 2017
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By Andy Murdoch

Thomas Waugh: 'Concordia is a place where individuals can make a huge difference.' Thomas Waugh: 'Concordia is a place where individuals can make a huge difference.'


After a 41-year career at the university, Thomas Waugh, professor and Concordia University Research Chair in Documentary Film and Sexual Representation, is retiring.

Or is he? Katie Russell, chair of the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, would argue he’s actually graduating. That’s the tongue-in-cheek theme of a day-long symposium that she organized in his honour.

From the Fruit Machine to the Perils of Pedagogy: Tom Waugh's Graduation to Emeritus takes place this Saturday, June 10 in the J. A. DeSève Cinema.  

“I totally expect him to remain an active scholar,” Russell says. “But his retirement is a huge loss. He has been a great mentor for me and an important person for our department.”

Highlights from Waugh’s accomplished career at Concordia include organizing La Ville en Rose, Quebec’s first queer studies conference in 1992; spearheading the minor in interdisciplinary studies in sexuality; founding the Concordia HIV/AIDS lecture series; establishing the Queer Media Database Canada-Quebec Project and wearing many administrative hats, including department chair, associate dean and head of film studies.
 

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‘He challenged us to talk about sexuality’

Over his career, Waugh has amassed an extensive, internationally respected body of written work. His recent publication on Joris Ivens won the 2017 Katherine Singer Kovács Book Award for outstanding scholarship in cinema and media studies.

He also continually broke new ground in the classroom.

“Tom made important headway in everybody’s ability to teach explicit material and talk about sexuality,” Russell says. “He challenged us to talk about it, through his teaching, his writing and his administration.” 

Outside Concordia, Waugh is a leading scholar of documentary film and has played a fundamental role in developing Concordia’s strength in that field.

“I wanted to pay tribute to these contributions,” Russell says.

For the symposium, Russell assembled a wide range of scholars to recognize Waugh’s impact through discussions on film studies, queer activism, friendship and documentary film.

International speakers include Bill Nichols from San Francisco State University, Alexandra Juhasz from Brooklyn College and Jane Gaines from Columbia University. Joining them will be Maria Nengeh Mensah and Ross Higgins from UQAM, John Greyson from York University and Jordan Arsenault from Concordia.

Waugh was recently in Toronto attending a conference put on in his honour by the Film Studies Association of Canada. While returning to Montreal on the train, he shared some reflections on his time at Concordia.
 

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‘Not a simple goodbye’

How does it feel to be reaching this milestone in your career?

Thomas Waugh: It’s very affirming. This is a celebration of various communities that my work has been a part of, rather than my work per se, and of relationships with colleagues, collaborators, students and the community. That’s the most exciting part of it for me.

I want to thank Katie for her heroic efforts to bring this symposium together. It’s been touching that the chair of the cinema school has invested so much energy in this. It could have been a simple goodbye, but she’s really made something of it.

You’ve achieved a lot. How do you feel about your accomplishments?

TW: It feels strange. I didn’t realize I’d done so many books.

In Toronto, they produced cookies with covers of six my books printed on the icing, and they were handed out to everyone in attendance. It was weird and thrilling!

How has Concordia contributed to your growth as a scholar?  

TW: It’s a very liberal intellectual community, a very diverse intellectual community and the students are wonderful. It’s a place where individuals can make a huge difference. There’s not an overwhelming bureaucracy and that’s been really important.

You’re very active in the community, for instance around issues relating to HIV/AIDS. How will you be continuing your community work?

TW: My involvement in those organizations is ongoing. They are friendship circles also. This event is a kind of celebration of friendship circles — in the broad sense of intellectual and political friendship. They are very important to me.

Will you take a break? What are you working on right now?

TW: I can’t take a break because I am under contract for a book. It’s an anthology called I Confess that I am co-directing with my doctoral student Brandon Arroyo. It’s about confessionality, first-person media and art over the last quarter-century, since the advent of the internet. This is going to keep us busy over the next six months at least.

Plus, I’ve got eight doctoral students who will be defending in the coming months, so it’s not as if I am divorcing myself from the institution. You don’t stop cold turkey at midnight, May 31!


Tom Waugh’s
Graduation to Emeritus symposium
 takes place Saturday, June 10 from 2 to 6 p.m. in the J.A. DeSève Cinema (J.W. McConnell Building, 1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd.) on the Sir George Williams Campus. Register today!

 

 



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