On May 29, 2015, friends of Míċeál Vaughan gathered to wish him well on the occasion of his retirement. Below is the toast that Robert Stacey, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, gave to honor and celebrate Professor Vaughan's career. Thank you, Míċeál, for your leadership the past three years as Chair. And, again, congratulations!
A Toast to Míċeál Vaughan on His Retirement
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
May 29, 2015
Míċeál Vaughan joined the UW English Department in 1973, the same year in which he received his PhD from Cornell University. He joined the Comparative Literature faculty two years later. He has been a faculty member at the University of Washington for 42 years. I know I am not alone in saying that I have no experience of the University of Washington that does not include Míċeál, and that I am not entirely sure what it will mean to be at the University of Washington without Míċeál, because he is so deeply woven into the fabric of this institution as I have come to know it.
As a fellow medievalist, Míċeál and his wife Sheila (also a Cornell medievalist) were among the first of our colleagues to welcome Robin and me to UW when we arrived here in 1988. Since that time, our paths and Míċeál’s have crossed happily and repeatedly. We have taught classes together; supervised and examined graduate students together; attended innumerable lectures and talks together; organized national and international conferences together; and done the lord’s work in the Faculty Senate and in university administration. Most recently, we have served together on a three-year effort to devise a new salary policy for the University. And of course Míċeál has served with great success as Chair of the Comparative Literature Department, now renamed, during Míċeál’s term as Chair, as the Department of Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media.
Within the world of Middle English studies, Míċeál’s scholarly work is unusual in several respects. One is that he has done truly important work on both of the giants of 14th century English literature. Chaucer scholars think of him as a Chaucerian; Langland scholars regard him as a Piers Ploughman man. This is rare. Even rarer is that Míċeál tackles large questions, the kind of questions that actually matter to the way we understand these foundational texts in the English literary canon. His work is based on a deep knowledge of the manuscript evidence. His new edition of the A version of Piers Ploughman, published both in a print and an electronic edition, is now and will be for quite a long time to come the standard version of that text. But although editing is a noble calling, Míċeál is not “merely” an editor. His literary critical work has been described by reviewers as both “foundational,” because it is based on careful, detailed analysis of the surviving manuscript texts, and “revolutionary,” because it up-ends so many long-established interpretations of canonical literary works, including Chaucer’s “Retractions.” This is not quick work, but it is the kind of work that will last. There is nothing faddish about it.
Míċeál has also been one of the pioneers in digital humanities, not only at UW but in the wider world of American medievalists. He saw early on the possibilities of digital technology for transforming the way scholars study and present texts that survive in multiple, conflicting manuscript versions, none of which can be shown to be authoritative (in the root meaning of that word). Along with Mona Modiano, he was one of the founders of the Textual Studies Program here at UW. And I will venture to guess that he will for long be the only Textual Studies faculty member who has taught both the “Oral and Scribal Texts” seminar and the seminar on Digital Hypertexts.
His other teaching has been no less wide-ranging. He has taught subjects ranging from the Bible to Seamus Heaney. He has taught Old Irish; Chaucer and Langland (of course); the history of the English language; Shakespeare; and Anglo-Irish literature – this last subject having been assigned to him by Donna Gerstenberger, who as Chair of English pointed out to him, in the academic version of the ontological fallacy: “You’re Irish; you can teach Irish literature.” And so he did; and so he has continued to do, not only with success, but also with integrity, which is the only way Míċeál ever does anything.
I have talked about Míċeál as a scholar and a teacher. But no account of Míċeál’s career would be remotely adequate without discussing his extraordinary record of service to the University and to the College of Arts and Sciences. Since 1980, when he was tenured, his record in faculty governance has been unmatched by any other faculty member at this university. In addition to serving multiple terms on the Faculty Senate, he has served 9 years on the Senate Executive Committee, 12 years on the Budget and Planning Committee, five years as Secretary of the Faculty, nearly 20 years on the “Code Cops,” six years on the Adjudication Panel, many more years on the Faculty Council on Faculty Affairs, and terms as Vice-Chair and then Chair of the Faculty Senate. He has also spent many years on the English Department Executive Committee; he has been Director of both Undergraduate and Graduate Studies in English, at different times; and at a time when he was contemplating retirement, he graciously agreed to Chair the Department of Comparative Literature.
Why did he do all this? Certainly he did it at real cost to himself. Between 1985 and 1995, he was almost entirely consumed by his work on the Faculty Senate and by his teaching. It is a wonder to me that he got any scholarly work done at all, even though he did. It must have taken a real toll on him; I cannot imagine how it could not have. But there is in Míċeál a strong sense of duty and of generosity. And so he made the decision to devote a decade of his career nearly full time to Faculty Senate business because he considered that this was the most important contribution he could make to the University at that time. Those of us who were part of the university in those years are grateful that he did so. And so should all of us be, whether we were here then or not. Shared governance at this university is healthier now than it has ever been. And that is in no small part because Míċeál Vaughan has devoted his career to strengthening it.
So I want to raise a glass to Míċeál and to Sheila, to say thank you for all you have done for us; and to express the fond hope that, wherever you travel, there will always be sheep.