With pleasure, the University of King’s College welcomes incoming Vice-President, Dr. Sarah Clift, who begins her five-year term on July 1. Dr. Clift, who has been a faculty member at the college since 2006, holds a PhD in Social and Political Thought from York University and an MA in Methodologies from Trent University. Additionally, Clift holds a BSc and a BA from the University of Western Ontario.
“I am excited about Dr. Sarah Clift becoming our next Vice-President, and I am really looking forward to working with her,” says President William Lahey. “My enthusiasm is clearly shared throughout the King’s community, and it is easy to understand why—Sarah is universally admired by her students and faculty and staff colleagues, for being an accomplished teacher and scholar and a kind, caring and thoughtful person.”
Clift holds a doctoral diploma in German and European Studies from the Centre for German & European Studies (York University/UQAM) and is an internationally recognized translator of French and German philosophy. In 1999, Clift—who comes from London, Ont. originally—moved to take up a research fellowship at the Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany, a city she established as her new home.
After seven years in Germany, Clift applied to be a King’s faculty fellow in the Foundation Year Program (FYP) when a friend emailed her the posting. After sending her application in a Purolator bag from her home in Berlin, she was soon invited to follow on a flight to Halifax for an interview.
“To be honest, I thought I had blown the interview, but when I got home there was a phone message from Dr. Angus Johnston, who was director of the Foundation Year Program at the time, offering me the position,” she says. “Before my interview preparations, I didn’t know about King’s. I was a complete newbie, so it was a real adventure!”
What attracted Clift about FYP initially, and still does, are the ways in which connections are made between historical epochs and the present. “I found my home in this program,” she says. “It’s interesting, and even quite moving, to see the ties that bind us in great literature, philosophy and political theory. The more we know about Greek tragedy and the French Revolution, for example, the more we understand our own world.”
Throughout her time at King’s, Clift’s considerable skills in program development have greatly benefitted students and the university community. Notable among these is the Contemporary Studies Program (CSP) Study Abroad course that Clift leads in Berlin, providing students with an opportunity for cultural immersion and study under the guidance of someone who is an expert on the aesthetics and politics of memory, a fluent speaker of German, and a former resident of the city. Closer to home, Clift worked with her King’s colleague, Dr. Laura Penny, to establish Humanities for Young People—a summer residence program that offers a rich introduction to the humanities for students aged 15-17. Since its inception in 2016, the program—which is expected to resume when pandemic safety protocols allow—has hosted students from across Canada.
Although Clift describes herself as “wildly enthusiastic” about the material she teaches, and enjoys supporting the intellectual development of her students, she’s ready for a change and a challenge—and to pay it forward. “I’ve been so supported by the last two VPs , and I can’t wait to take on a similar role through this new administrative function,” she says. “Our students are the lifeblood of King’s. Therefore, faculty well-being really matters to the well-being of King’s as a whole.”
Although Clift won’t be teaching in the upcoming academic year, so she can fully immerse herself in her first year as VP, she plans to teach “a bit” after that. However, she will still be connected to students, working alongside the King’s Students’ Union, and many others, in new ways to support the constructive discussions that take place at the college. “I’ll be participating in conversations around faculty, students, recruitment, enrolment, retention and fundraising, all to help ensure the academic strength and integrity of the programs at King’s continues, and evolves, well into the future.”
No one can attest to the depth and breadth of Clift’s new role more than outgoing Vice-President Dr. Peter O’Brien.
“I’ve learned that in some ways, this role defies description—or prediction! The focus is primarily academic, but there are important points of interaction with every constituency of the college—alumni, students, staff, faculty, members of the administrative team,” he says. “For me, the personal relationships I’ve developed with various people have been most rewarding. Those interactions have functioned literally to help me see the college and its community from different points of view and to understand how everything fits together, or could or should fit together.”
Although O’Brien is stepping away as VP, he isn’t leaving King’s—and his colleagues are happy about that.
“Deep gratitude is what I feel as Dr. Peter O’Brien’s time as Vice-President comes to an end,” says President Lahey. “He has been the epitome of the kind of Vice-President King’s needs—a wise counsellor to everyone, a kind, compassionate and supportive colleague, and a fierce advocate for students and our distinctive education mission.”
“His has been a pivotal role over the months of the pandemic,” President Lahey continues, “and the legacy of contributions to our college he will leave behind, from and beyond the pandemic, is extraordinary. We have formed a great and productive partnership, as I know Dr. Sarah Clift and I will as well. As I welcome Sarah, I wish Peter all the best as he returns to being a full-time teacher and scholar and member of the Classics Department.”
After spending more than a year working at her dining-room table, Clift is “super excited to return to the Quad in the fall. It will be a cause for celebration! I work well independently, but I also really like a good team huddle.”
As she steps into the role of an administrator, Clift anticipates that a sense of urgency, combined with patience, will be instrumental to her success in this office. “I’m learning how to make good priorities and stick to them, knowing there could be a crisis around the corner like COVID-19. I’m quite good at multitasking. In fact, I’m most efficient when I’m really busy because I end up being more focused. I think that might be a superpower in this job!”
Superpowers aside, Clift’s colleagues are secure in the knowledge that her feet are firmly planted on the ground. “I know Sarah is enthusiastic about the contributions she will make as Vice-President to our community, including our ongoing work to make us a more equitable, diverse and inclusive community,” says President Lahey. “I am deeply grateful she decided to devote much of the next five years to serving the college and our community in this important way.”