Board names Nicell new Dean of Engineering, Allison reappointed to Dentistry

McGill's Board of Governors has appointed Jim Nicell, currently on six months of leave after doing a six-year term as Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), as the University's new Dean of Engineering. The Board also reappointed Dean of Dentistry Paul Allison. Read on to learn more about both appointments.
Jim Nicell. / Photo: Owen Egan

By Doug Sweet

When the word finally came, McGill’s new Dean of Engineering was up to his elbows in an important project: installing a new dishwasher. And, thanks to aging infrastructure, it wasn’t going especially well.

Jim Nicell, currently on six months of leave after doing a six-year term as Associate Vice-Principal (University Services), was tackling a major domestic plumbing project when McGill’s Board of Governors approved his appointment as Dean at its meeting of February 12. The appointment is effective July 1.

“I’m excited and eager to take this on,” Nicell said, and not about the dishwasher job. “I’ve been thinking about this a long time and I’m looking forward to immersing myself back in the faculty. I’m going to count on the support of a lot of people and I’m going to support them.”

For Nicell, his appointment marks a return to a faculty where he has served both as a professor in the Civil Engineering Department and as Associate Dean of Student Affairs. And it comes after a challenging term as AVP in charge of keeping the University running, in a physical sense.

Nicell was charged with overseeing the massive Knowledge Infrastructure Projects at McIntyre Medical, Macdonald Engineering and Otto Maass Chemistry Buildings a couple of years ago and the sprawling portfolio he directed also includes Security Services, Grounds, Waste Management, Health and Safety, Emergency Measures and Fire Prevention and University Safety.

“Jim did a remarkable job as AVP,” said Provost Anthony C. Masi. “His dedication and attention to detail, as well as his ability to deal effectively and patiently with a wide range of people and their equally wide-ranging demands will serve him in good stead as Dean of Engineering, leading a diverse Faculty with a long and rich history at McGill.”

At the same time, the Board also reappointed Dean of Dentistry Paul Allison, who welcomed the chance to continue the work he has started with colleagues in the Faculty reshaping curriculum in the undergraduate, graduate and residency programs and expanding the Faculty’s considerable community outreach efforts. The reappointment, also for five years, takes effect on June 1.

Dr. Paul Allison. / Photo: Owen Egan

“I’m honoured to have been reappointed,” Allison said. “It’s a reflection of all the hard work the Faculty has been doing over the last five years.”

Allison, who arrived at McGill in 1995 as a PhD student, became a professor in the Faculty in 1999. He said he is proud of the leadership the Faculty has shown among dental faculties elsewhere in Canada and abroad.

Allison is also hoping to bring more of a research element to the Faculty’s considerable outreach efforts. These include the Jim Lund Clinic at the Welcome Hall Mission in Montreal’s St-Henri neighbourhood, which serves a large number of underprivileged people in the community at no cost to them.

“It’s not only a service to the community, but a wonderful teaching opportunity for our students,” Allison said.

“Paul has worked tirelessly on curriculum matters, including some innovative cross-faculty initiatives and he has led the effort to relocate the dental clinic and preclinical laboratories to ensure that students have access to the most up-to-date space and equipment possible,” Masi said.

“I’m delighted with both these important appointments,” said Principal and Vice-Chancellor Heather Munroe-Blum. “Prof. Allison has done outstanding work in leading the Faculty as he and his colleagues develop a revitalized curriculum that utilizes the latest approaches to dealing with oral health, relies on innovation in teaching and learning, and emphasizes the fundamental importance of ensuring that all members of our society have equal access to dental care.

“And Prof. Nicell has made an immense contribution to the University, including leading the development and implementation of the University’s Master Plan and managing complex and time-constrained work associated with McGill’s Knowledge Infrastructure Projects, which saw significant renovations to three major buildings on our downtown campus. We would also like to thank Prof. Andrew Kirk for acting as Interim Dean of Engineering and for all his efforts throughout the period of transition.”

It’s too early to talk about his priorities as Dean, Nicell said, noting that he’s stepping into the job in difficult times in terms of the financial pressures the University will be under and it will be important to think strategically.

“We’ll need to make sure we use every dime that comes through the door wisely.”

His immediate priority, however, was to get that dishwasher in place.