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September 26, 2002 Political science department gains a new vitality



Reeta Tremblay

Professor Reeta Tremblay

by Frank Kuin

Concordia's Department of Political Science is buzzing with activity these days. Its young and dynamic faculty members are publishing extensively, enrolment is way up, and the growth spurt of recent years has been noted by the political science community across Canada.

A sense of fresh enthusiasm is palpable in the offices on upper Bishop St. The lively chair of the department, Dr. Reeta Tremblay, is shepherding her flock of new recruits, who are actively drawing in new students and organizing conferences.

She’s also publishing articles about her own specialization, South Asia and Kashmir, and planning yet another expansion project: the creation of a PhD program.

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a department that a mere few years ago experienced a brush with oblivion. In a wave of retirements, Political Science lost about half its faculty in the second half of the 1990s, and according to Tremblay, was toying with the idea of closing down altogether.

“Our department was one of the worst hit,” Tremblay said of the retirements, which by 1998 saw its faculty slashed from 21 full-time members to 11. “So the choice was to close down the department or rebuild it.”

Of course, it was decided to rebuild — fortunately, as it turns out, because now, following an aggressive hiring spree, it is felt that the department can challenge for a spot in the top three political science schools in Canada.

“We really have a good chance,” Tremblay said. “We have no problem in terms of credibility. The whole Canadian political science community knows that we’ve been hiring the best. We’re certainly on the map in Canada.”

What’s the secret behind the political science department’s resurrection? According to Tremblay, the “complete renewal” of the department was born out of the bloodletting, because it forced the remaining faculty to start with a clean slate.

“It gave us an excellent opportunity to bring in new faculty members with new research profiles,” she said. “And it really started us thinking about how to create an ideal department.”

The overhaul started with the formulation of a new curriculum, centered on the core areas of international relations and comparative politics.

Within those areas, the department began hiring young scholars, bringing the full-time faculty back up to 19 today. It did so before other schools were widely advertising positions, so that Concordia had the luxury of being able to “pick and choose,” Tremblay said.

Crucially, it was decided to open the department’s doors to new faculty members of many methodological persuasions, and to fill in the core areas with sub-specializations.

For instance, within the area of international relations, the department has specialists in international human security, the theory of war, globalization and regional integration, and international organizations.

“The blend between different approaches is one of our strengths,” Tremblay said. “We feel that we now have one of the strongest international relations departments.”

Another strength is the popular MA program in Public Policy and Public Administration, with its option to complete an internship with the federal government. About 90 per cent of interns end up getting jobs, Tremblay said.

“If you go to the federal government, you’ll find students from our program in almost every department.”

Now, the research-oriented faculty is interested in adding a PhD program. Its creation will be Tremblay’s main objective once the faculty has been boosted to 23 or 24 members, hopefully by next year.

Meanwhile, students keep coming in ever-increasing numbers. Since the 1996-97 academic year, program students in Political Science have increased steadily from just under 1,000 to more than 1,300 this year.

Tremblay thinks students’ attraction to political science has to do with a movement away from very specialized knowledge. “Political science offers methodological rigour, and also addresses the issues which pertain to everyday life.”