Athletics helped shape Misak's future
To attend or not to attend: that is the question — unless of course you are Interim Vice President and Provost at the University of Toronto Dr. Cheryl Misak (BA ’83). The question then, of course, becomes moot.
“My mother was a school teacher and it was pretty clear that we would be attending the University of Lethbridge,” remembers Misak. “Education was very important in our home.”
It was a love of athletics, however, that would indirectly change the course of Misak’s life. Born and raised in Lethbridge, Misak graduated from Catholic Central High School in 1979, and began attending the U of L with plans on becoming a lawyer.
“In my first term I wanted Fridays off so I could go on the University’s ski club trips and play in tennis tournaments, so I only chose Tuesday/Thursday classes,” explains Misak. “I had one gap in my schedule and filled it with a philosophy class. I had no idea what philosophy was, but almost from the first day I realized that I really liked it.”
Dr. Michael Kubara, Misak’s first philosophy professor at the U of L, was very influential in Misak’s education.
“He was great; he didn’t mince words and was suitably hard on me. It was just what I needed. When I wrote a sentence that didn’t make very much sense, he would tell me and then help me re-write it. He taught me how to write. Teaching someone how to write is teaching them how to think,” says Misak.
A very dedicated student, Misak was involved in all manner of projects that went beyond the classroom. This gave her more than a valuable education that opened her thinking, but some administrative experience as well.
“At that time the Albertan philosophers would get together for a conference once a year. When it was Lethbridge’s turn to host, I ended up doing a lot of administrative things that are unusual for a graduate student to do,” recalls Misak. “Without graduate students to compete with, the keen undergraduates got a lot of attention. That was wonderful.”
In 1983, Misak graduated with a bachelor of arts in philosophy with great distinction. She also won the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Gold Medal. Following graduation, she moved to New York City and earned her master’s degree at Columbia University. In her second year at Columbia, Misak became the recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, which eventually took her to Oxford University in England.
“At Oxford I worked with fantastic people and met people from all over the world. I also met my husband there,” says Misak.
She and her husband, Dr. David Dyzenhaus, taught briefly at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., before moving on to the University of Toronto in 1990. Since the beginning of her career at the U of T, Misak has quickly moved up the ranks as professor of philosophy, Chair of the philosophy department, dean of the Missassauga campus of the U of T, acting vice-president and principal of the Mississauga campus, and then deputy provost of the U of T as a whole and into her current position.
Kubara is not surprised by her success.
“Cheryl had all-wheel drive with low range for plowing through the roughest going. She had a naturally disarming manner of getting her way,” says Kubara. “While still at Oxford, her husband David and I predicted her destiny as a wonderful university administrator — a counter example to The Peter Principle.”
It seems that Kubara and Dyzenhaus may have a future in fortune telling, because for Misak there seems to be no ceiling to her ascent.
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• Misak and husband, David, have two children, Alex and Sophie, and often travel together on sabbaticals to South Africa, England, Germany and New Zealand
• Misak’s numerous academic awards include: U of T Student’s Administrative Council Award; Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship; Recipient of five SSHRC Grants
• She has three published books and is currently writing another on American Pragmatism