Brain drain becomes brain gain as young scholars are hired back

by Frank Kuin

When Ariela Freedman left Concordia in 1994 to do her MA and PhD at New York University, she thought she might be leaving Canada for good. A graduate of Concordia's Liberal Arts College, Freedman felt the U.S. offered far more academic opportunities than Canada ever could.

"The road to the United States seems like a one-way road," said Freedman, a specialist in modern English literature. "It was self-evident to move into that direction. I never expected a chance to come back to Canada."

But to her own surprise and delight, Freedman was offered a permanent position as a faculty member back at the Liberal Arts College at the beginning of this academic year. She now teaches first-year and third-year courses in literature in the department where she once was an undergraduate student. "It was a remarkable opportunity," she said.

Freedman is not the only Concordian to have come to Montreal via the United States. She is one of a growing number of young faculty members at the university who have gone against the flow to the U.S. and the English-speaking provinces, a trend she once described as "self-evident."

Indeed, a recent hiring spree in the Faculty of Arts and Science shows that there is more to the issue of the brain drain than an exodus alone. In making available 50 full-time positions in the last three years, in the wake of a massive round of early retirements induced by government cutbacks, the Faculty has been able to attract young academics from all over North America.

For instance, Benoît Léger, a young professor in the Département des études françaises, returned to his native Montreal after a stint teaching French at the University of Oklahoma. Jason Camlot, a professor of English, came back to Concordia after completing his MA and PhD at Boston and Stanford Universities. And Corinne Langinier of France joined Concordia's Economics Department after working as a visiting economics professor at the University of Southern California.

"You hear a lot about the brain drain, but I guess you can call this the brain gain," said Derek Cassoff, Communications Co-ordinator for the Faculty of Arts and Science. "It's good to see that for some people, coming back to Canada is still a very viable option."

In fact, many young academics jumped at the opportunity to join Concordia, often citing Canadian lifestyle as a factor. "I was really glad to come back," said Léger, a McGill graduate, of his decision to return to Montreal from Oklahoma. "I was at a very big university in a small town, whereas at Concordia, I'm downtown in a big city. That creates a very different atmosphere for teaching and learning."

Richard DeMont, athletic therapist in the Department of Exercise Science, agrees. "I'm more interested in living in Canada than in the United States," said DeMont, who spent more than four years doing his MA and PhD in athletic therapy and sports medicine at Indiana State and the University of Pittsburgh. He took up his position at Concordia a year ago.

While DeMont felt that he had to weigh his personal decision to live in Canada against the broader availability of academic positions in the U.S., he said that Concordia offered a competitive opportunity. DeMont, whose research expertise focuses on muscle activity in relation to the joints, took it as evidence that the academic standing of his field is improving in Canada. "The support that Concordia has offered is good," he said.

To some of the new faculty members, another factor in Concordia's attraction was a less procedural approach within the Canadian academic world as compared to the American system. Léger, who applied for several positions in the U.S. before being accepted in Oklahoma, recalled the application process as "very formal and requiring a lot of time and money." The Canadian situation, he said, "is a lot less formal, which is actually quite nice."

Freedman agreed. "The U.S. is much bigger in every way," she said. "There's a lot of pressure to be in the work of academia as a profession rather than as a vocation. But I think Canada is very competitive because the university system is less enormous and less overheated and because it's a very attractive place to live."


Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.