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U.S. academics staying in Canada

Some who moved north in Bush presidency have no plans to return

By DANIEL DROLET | FEB 23 2009
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Rick Halpern became a Canadian citizen in December. He says he hasn’t heard from any colleagues who are considering going back to the U.S.

In 2005, just after George Bush was re-elected President of the United States, University Affairs told the story of a number of American academics who had recently moved to Canada – attracted north by jobs but also by this country’s more liberal attitudes.

Four years later, those academics are still here. All say they’re committed to staying despite the election of Barack Obama in the U.S. and the less certain outlook for research funding in Canada. And – while this is by no means a scientific survey – they say they’ve heard of no American-born colleagues who are packing up and going back home.

“We’re happy Canadians, and don’t know of any other ex-Americans who are talking about moving back,” said A. Michael Allcott, director of Trent University’s international program. Dr. Allcott came to Canada in 2003 to join his partner, an East European who had been unable to get legal permission to remain in the U.S.

“My partner and I enjoy full civil rights as a same-sex married couple, and don’t see the likelihood of that in the U.S., even under Obama,” said Dr. Allcott. He became a Canadian citizen in December.

Rick Halpern, whose face graced the cover of the March 2005 issue of University Affairs, is now principal of the University of Toronto’s New College. He, too, recently became a Canadian citizen and said he hasn’t heard from any colleagues who are considering going back to the U.S.

Gage Averill, an ethnomusicologist who moved north from New York University and is now vice-principal, academic and dean, at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, said he has noticed that American colleagues have recently stopped asking about positions in Canada.

But as for himself, he said that although he voted in the U.S. presidential election – “one of the thrilling political events of my life” – he’s committed to staying here: “The election hasn’t changed things.”

Stephen Saideman, Canada Research Chair in International Security and Ethnic Conflict at McGill University, concurred. “The key issue is not who is president, but are there good jobs available?”

Dr. Saideman, who arrived in 2002 from Lubbock, Texas, said the economic situation “is leading to significant challenges in the academic job market” in the U.S.

“Endowments have dropped by 40 percent, so even rich private institutions like Harvard and Stanford are freezing hiring.” Most state budgets are facing significant cuts, so public institutions aren’t hiring, he said.

And some say it’s not apparent that things have changed fundamentally in the U.S.

“It’s unclear the circumstances are different,” said Michael Bowling, a professor in computing science at the University of Alberta who’d previously been a research assistant at Carnegie Mellon University. Even if Canada is cutting back on research funding, he said he thinks this country started with a better funding model. Besides, many of his funding sources are provincial, not federal – and since the Obama administration hasn’t released a budget yet, it’s too early to know what will happen to funding in the U.S.

Henry Giroux, who gave up an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University to come to Canada in 2004, also believes circumstances in the U.S. really haven’t changed. Both he and his wife are professors in the English and cultural studies department at McMaster University (he with another endowed chair). One of the most vocal of academic immigrants about his political motives for leaving the U.S. four years ago, the leading intellectual remained outspoken in an e-mail explaining his reasons:

“First, the U.S. does not have national health care, which strikes me as barbarous. I would never live in a country in which the market decides what kind, if any, health care I might receive.

“Second, the ideological orthodoxy that gripped the U.S. under Bush is alive and well in the Republican Party, and I cannot imagine that Obama will fundamentally alter the nature of the economic, social, and political problems the country faces as long as these fundamentalists are capable of exercising a decisive influence on the country’s policies.

“Third, I think Obama’s post-partisan ideology is both a concession to the right-wing and an enormous mistake politically, one that does not augur well for fundamental reforms at any level.

“Fourth, Bush gave us Iraq and Obama seems intent on giving us another disastrous war in Afghanistan. This war will reproduce many of the same problems both at home and abroad we had under Bush – more militarism, a recruiting issue for terrorists, a hatred of U.S. foreign policy, more surveillance, etc.

“For all of the optimism that accompanied Obama election, I think reality will set in very quickly and it does not look good.”

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  1. Wayne Norman / February 23, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Just for the record … I came to Canada in 1988, became a Canadian citizen two years ago, and will be moving back to the U.S. to take up a full-time university teaching/research position this coming July. I have great respect for both the U.S. and Canada. I am deeply committed to my responsibilities as a citizen of both countries. So yes, there are U.S. citizens heading back South, even after 20 years.

  2. Melissa Belvadi / March 9, 2009 at 6:03 pm

    I very recently walked away from a tenured Associate Professor position in the US to join a Canadian university. I concur with Prof. Giroux’s analysis of the situation in the US and his reasons closely mirror my own. I would add to them that I see no likelihood of change in the stifling anti-intellectualism that pervades American cultural values today. And I like the idea that about 7% of my federal taxes, rather than about 45%, are supporting military activities, leaving the rest to be invested in the peaceful needs of the nation.

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