Department of Chemistry celebrates Robert Batey

November 30, 2023 by Alyx Dellamonica

The faculty, staff and students of the Department of Chemistry will gather early in December to celebrate former Chair Robert Batey, recognizing his decade of service and many accomplishments.  

Batey led the department with integrity and fairness throughout his tenure as chair, according to Professor Mark Lautens, who assumed the department Chair role in July 2023. He guided Chemistry through a number of major renovation projects, and his leadership proved crucial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant lockdowns.  

Professor Andy Dicks echoed this praise, noting: “The pandemic challenged all of us, personally and professionally. It forced us to adapt to new ways of learning, teaching, and conducting research. Under Rob’s guidance, the Department demonstrated agility and unwavering dedication to its core missions, ensuring that our educational and research endeavors continued unabated. Through remote meetings, innovative solutions, and countless hours of hard work, Rob ensured that our department thrived during the most trying of times.” 

Batey’s legacy includes championing the Department to potential new faculty.  According to Professor Helen Tran, “Rob impressed upon me both U of T’s research legacy and ground-breaking vision, convincing me that U of T was ideally suited for starting my independent career. So far he has been absolutely right—my career has evolved into unexpected but welcomed avenues, elevating my initial ideas.” 

Professor Haissi Cui emphasized Batey and the department’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. “As my interview took place at the end of 2021, travel was restricted, and presentations and meetings were held remotely. It stood out to me that the Department offered to pay for a hotel room, an extremely considerate gesture given possibly unequal remote interviewing conditions. Many of my scheduled meetings were with Assistant Professors who had started in recent years, and I had the opportunity to meet many of the women in the department. Rob confirmed this was done purposefully to connect me with researchers who have had similar experiences.” 

 “These were instances of Rob’s commitment to EDI, fairness, and support. The kindness and consideration were influential in my decision that this department would be a very good place to join.” 

Engaging with the community of researchers across all career stages and education levels here in the Chemistry Department is the absolute best part of my job,” Cui said, emphasizing that Batey strongly contributed to a positive, collaborative, and friendly atmosphere. 

Department of Chemistry staff were swift to praise Batey. Grace Flock, Chief Administrative Officer of the Department of Chemistry, describes him as a transformative leader: intellectually honest, humble and supportive of his team members. “He is open-minded and allows people to express their creative thoughts and ideas. He was an outstanding mentor, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities he provided.” 

Jeannie Pak, Manager of Finance and HR, lauded Batey’s unique balance of clear vision, effective listening, and great communication. “Rob was a Chair you could discuss anything with, and count on his advice and support. He worked efficiently with all levels of the Department faculty and staff.” 

Batey was not afraid to take on big projects to build the Chemistry Team. According to Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik, his role was critical in building the Acceleration Consortium, of which he is now a key member within the leadership team.  

“Rob was the department chair that recruited me to the University of Toronto in 2018. Moving a large laboratory like mine across borders is no easy task. Rob was always there for me during the process,” Aspuru-Guzik notes. “He strongly supported expanding aggressively into the field of AI for chemistry. We were able to recruit our fantastic colleague Anatole Von Lilienfeld as part of this effort.” 

Andy Dicks agrees: "Throughout his decade-long tenure as Chair of Chemistry, Rob has exemplified the qualities of a great leader. His commitment to academic excellence, his tireless work ethic, and his ability to inspire and unite the academic community have contributed to the outstanding success and resilience of our department. It is this resilience that has been most evident over the past few years.  We are exceptionally well-positioned to grow and build upon his enormous effort throughout the pandemic, and I can think of no better legacy than that."