Saturday, November 21, 2015

Discussing Post-Paris in Toronto: Ye Olde Students Rock

I went to Toronto yesterday to be part of a panel on the events in Paris and the reactions to it.  Most of my reactions to this event have to do with my old students:
  • Within five seconds of arriving in the room, I got to talk to a former research assistant from my McGill days.  She was part of a large team that coded diaspora data, and it was great not just to see her but hear a bit about her internship at the Canada's Embassy to Libya, currently located in Tunisia.
  • The next student up was one from my last big Intro class, who is now finishing her MA at Munk.  She had nice things to say about how my class set her on this path, which was really nice to hear even though I know that IR is simply inherently interesting.
    • My wife informed me that whenever she bumped into a student from my Intro to IR class (the joy of having a distinctive last name meant that the students would be pretty certain she was Mrs. Spew/Mrs. Prof of Intro to IR), they all cited the same lecture--apples and oranges.  My question, of course, is: do they remember the point of that lecture?  Hmmm.

  • The next student was, of course, Aisha Ahmad, a former Phd student of mine, who now teaches at U of Toronto.  She wrote a terrific piece for the Globe and Mail (web now, print maybe this weekend or Monday), arguing that the refugees play an important role in this battle with ISIS, and the smart way to fight ISIS is to accept these refugees.  It would undermine their ideology, their recruitment base, and their financing.  Just a sharp argument articulately made.  And then, of course, she was the one with the best line of the night:
The other panelists--Randall Henson of U of T Poli Sci, Paul Cohen of U of T History, Lorne Dawson of U of Waterloo Sociology, and Stephen Toope, Director of Munk--all had stuff to say that was incisive and made me think seriously about the past week's events and where to go from here.

One other thing: I loved, loved, loved the organization of the event.  The key pieces were:
  • Nice array of people: an IR guy (as the NATO guy, I thought I would not have much to say but then I realized I was an IR/Canadian defence guy), a Europeanist, a Islamist politics expert, a sociologist who works on radicalization, an historian, and an international law prof.  We didn't repeat each other much, contradicted each other only sometimes but provided many different angles on the issue.
  • We each spoke for only five minutes so that max time could be dedicated to answering question.  We probably could have gone on for another half hour as there were plenty of questions we could have still addressed.
  • The various assistants collected questions from the audience on cards they were given, and tweets were also transcribed onto these cards.  Toope then organized the cards and would use a few to ask a thematic question that some of us could address briefly.  This was so smart because:
    • It avoided the speechifying problem where folks make long-winded statements that are more comments than questions.
    • It avoided the audience just asking one or two panelists questions.
    • It integrated the tweets well.
    • It keep things moving.
I will definitely be stealing this idea.

Anyhow, always great to see former students, always great to have a dynamic interchange of ideas, and always confused about the next steps ahead.

Oh, and I had the chance to hang out with a friend of mine who went to the same grad school as me but about 15 years later.  Good beer, very good poutine, and great company.

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