Updated Anyone with sufficient memory to recall their college days may remember suspecting some of the staff behind the lectern were barely breathing. One student in Canada however was rather surprised to learn a professor offering the gift of knowledge had, in fact, passed away two years earlier.
The magic of online learning, necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has put a barrier between student and lecturer, a barrier student Aaron Ansuini tried to bridge by emailing his art history professor, whose online course at Montreal’s Concordia University he was enjoying.
A short Google left the student flummoxed. François-Marc Gagnon, the professor in question, had passed away in 2019, aged 83, according to a story first appearing in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Ansuini took to Twitter to voice his concerns. “I just found out the prof for this online course I’m taking *died in 2019* and he’s technically still giving classes since he’s *literally my prof for this course*,” he wrote.
“IDK SOMETHING ABOUT IT IS WEIRD,” he continued.
The situation got even weirder than Ansuini suspected. The course's listed instructor, Marco Deyasi, was also not aware the professor teaching the online course from eConcordia, a joint venture between the university and consultancy KnowledgeOne, had passed on.
Having started in the autumn of 2019, a few months after the professor’s death, Deyasi had never met Gagnon. He had no reason to suspect Gagnon was anything other than alive until he saw the student’s tweet. “I saw that thing from the student, and I was like, ‘Really? Oh, damn.’ You know? I just thought Professor Gagnon retired,” he said, wrote the Chronicle.
According to a glowing obituary, Gagnon was awarded the Order of Canada in 1999. In 2013, he earned the top annual prize from the Académie des lettres du Québec and in 2015 he was inducted into the Order of Quebec.
Martha Langford, research chair and current director of the Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art said: “He was a creative thinker and an inspiring educator. His erudition, wit and generosity of spirit will be sorely missed.”
Rather more prosaically, Ansuini's Twitter thread praised Gagnon. “This prof is this sweet old French guy who’s just absolutely thrilled to talk paintings of snow and horses, and somehow he always manages to make it interesting, making you care about something you truly thought could not possibly be that interesting. It’s fucking sad man wtf.”
Concordia University has been contacted for comment. ®
Updated to add
A Concordia University spokeswoman sent us the following statement:
This course is part of the eConcordia catalogue, a list of courses specifically developed to be fully online which has been in place for years. The course includes video lectures by Dr François-Marc Gagnon who developed this online course some years ago with eConcordia and passed away in 2019. To be clear, this is not the same as the courses that have been moved online due to the pandemic. eConcordia courses are designed from the very start to be fully online, developed with a faculty member and meant to last over time. The developer of the course is not always the instructor of the course, as is the case here. The instructor for the course is Dr Marco Deyasi, as the course description indicates. The instructor, Dr Deyasi, and the two teaching assistants, are the ones interacting with students and grading assessments. Dr Gagnon was an expert in his field and this course uses his lectures as a teaching tool – as other courses use textbooks or other educational material to support teaching.