Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Surprised, Troubled, Enchanted and Humbled, Part Deux

One of my very first posts was taking a silly question from Obama's 100 days in office press conference and apply it to Canada: what I found to be surprising, troubling, enchanting, and humbling about Canada. Next week starts my eighth year at McGill--believe it or not. Time flies when one is really busy. So, I thought I would mark the beginning of the new term by considering how McGill has surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled me.

  1. I have been surprised by how much stuff the graduate students here write. I am far busier here than in my previous job reading dissertation proposals, chapters, grant proposals, article drafts, master's projects, and the like. Indeed, I often proclaim that I have the grad students do my work as research and teaching assistants so that I can do their work. I have also been surprised with how hard they work and what they are willing to do, like go to Syria or Afghanistan.
  2. I have been very, very troubled by two diseases common to many academic environments but positively plague McGill: bureaucracy and institutional arrogance. Regarding the former, I was essentially terminated twice in my early years here because the bureaucrats didn't process my work permit paperwork. I found out the first time when I was not allowed to take a book out of the library past August 1st--because I was no longer going to be an employee of McGill. After firing out heaps of emails, I got the bureaucracy to fix the problem. It happened again when that work permit lapsed. This time, I used the library as my canary in the coalmine, went there deliberately to test the situation and found the same thing, so I was able to fire of the same bunch of emails earlier in the summer. Institutional arrogance refers to a basic attitude that the institution is better than most so whatever strange ways it has of doing things should not be challenged. As a result, McGill does a variety of things that do not converge with North American norms, placing it often at a competitive disadvantage.
  3. I am positively enchanted by the intelligence, passion and thirst for knowledge that characterizes the McGill undergraduate. They frequently remind me of the folks I went to school with at Oberlin--there is a genuine desire to understand the world in order to change it. The students bring with them incredible experiences from around the world, they do most of the work, and are diligent and creative about applying the concepts to today's events. I haven't had the chance to teach the honors seminar in IR since my second year here, and I miss it, as that small group knocked my socks off each year. Still, one of the positives of teaching the huge Intro to IR class is that I do get to meet an astonishing array of folks, even if I don't get to know anyone of them very well.
  4. I am humbled by the folks hired by my department since I came here. We were lucky enough to have a bunch of slots to fill the first several years of my time here. While hiring processes are idiosyncratic and I have sometimes been on the losing side of the departmental battle, we have managed to hire very bright, very creative folks who have already made a huge difference here and in the discipline. At Texas Tech, I viewed my role among the junior faculty as like Colonel Hogan, one of the leaders of the upstarts against the incompetent, bungling Germans. Now, that I am tenured and that we have brought a bunch of great folks to McGill, I guess I am now Sergeant Schultz: I know nothing!!

1 comment:

Jacob T. Levy said...

"Next week starts my eighty year at McGill--believe it or not."

My, you look very good for a 110-year old!