Professor Politician

There is a tradition of academics entering politics, or politicians entering academia. It’s a rarity, but a tradition nonetheless. I guess the logic has been that those who’ve spent their careers studying public issues are well equipped to legislate upon those issues, as well, and vice versa.

So a quick scan of finds us a couple of Canada’s top politicians and former politicians. I could not find Bob Rae or Ed Broadbent (both successful university teachers), but I did manage to find one Pierre E. Trudeau lecturing at Harvard. Mind you, it’s not the P.E.T., hero of my youth and perhaps the finest leader this country has known in the modern era. You can tell because this P.E.T. is a language teacher and is, um, still alive. But the character resemblance is uncanny, based upon this one student review:

“If you have a flat chest like me don’t take this class because you will de disappointed with outcome at the end of the semester!”

I managed, as well, to find one of my favourite Canadan academics, the University of Toronto’s Mark Kingwell, a philosophy professor whom I’ve always found inspiring for his ability to straddle the worlds of both serious academia and pop culture relevance. But this post is about politicans in academia, and Kingwell does not qualify…yet.

The big score was in finding student reviews of Michael Ignatieff. For those of you outside Canada, Ignatieff (whose niece I went to high school with) is essentially our “king in waiting”. He is the number two man in the Liberal party, which is set to probably assume power in the next election. I’ve formerly written about Ignatieff here and here.

While the actual leader, Stephane Dion, tries to establish some kind of national profile, it’s Ignatieff who fights the battles in the House of Commons, and whom many of the other politicos view as the real leadership threat. The photo above is telling. It has Ignatieff in the foreground, with Dion silently watching in the back, a tad out of focus.

Ignatieff has an image problem in this country, because he is seen as our version of a neocon, however repentant. He is known in some circles for his apologetic stances on torture, and his comparatively accepting views on the projection of US military power. Yet he is managing to rehabilitate himself somewhat well. Here is a comment from one of his students, from the site:

“Very sexy. Lets TAs do all the grading. Extremely popular with mid-careers, so classes always oversubscribed. Doesn’t particularly care about his students unless they are former political prisoners or attractive coeds”

In addition to Iggy, I found a review of another Harvard professor, one Kim Campbell, Canada’s former (and first female) Prime Minister. Campbell was the lamest of ducks and perhaps the most unpopular PM in my lifetime. But, post-politics, she’s managed to create an image of herself as distanced, self-mocking, easygoing pointy-head…. which is a good thing.