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Michael Ignatieff, who resigned as leader of the Liberal Party after a historic defeat on May 2, will take a position at the University of Toronto. (Mike Cassese/Reuters/Mike Cassese/Reuters)
Michael Ignatieff, who resigned as leader of the Liberal Party after a historic defeat on May 2, will take a position at the University of Toronto. (Mike Cassese/Reuters/Mike Cassese/Reuters)

U of T teaching job marks 'end of my life as a politician,' Ignatieff says Add to ...

Hours after leading the Liberal Party into its worst defeat in history, Michael Ignatieff declared his intention to put political life behind him forever and return to the classroom - a door the University of Toronto opened for him with multiple teaching assignments and a residency at the university's Massey College.

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"I'm going back into a classroom because the only damn thing I can do that's any use to anybody is to teach kids what I learned and what mistakes I made," Mr. Ignatieff said in an interview with The Globe and Mail in the opposition leader's official residence in Ottawa.

He asked himself rhetorically whether he was facing the end of his life as a public figure, as a public intellectual - which he was when he taught at Harvard before returning to Toronto in 2005 - as well as a politician.

"The life that I like the best is teaching. It's the end of my life as a politician."

Mr. Ignatieff, who turns 64 next Thursday, has taught at Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge universities. His undergraduate degree was earned at University of Toronto and he has a doctorate from Harvard in history. He is also an acclaimed author and journalist.

In his interview with The Globe, he said that, having been the leader of a political party that is now rethinking its future "it's very important that I leave well enough alone. That's very important. You've got to give the next team space. If you don't, that gives them problems. The thing I'm most keen to do is just get back into the classroom."

He will teach in the law faculty, the department of political science, the Munk School of Global Affairs and the School of Public Policy and Governance.

John Fraser, the master of Massey, said in a statement, "It has been a tradition for some time to offer the position [of senior resident]to political leaders making transitions in their professional lives. In the past 15 years, three outstanding Canadians have been senior residents: former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, former premier of Ontario Bob Rae, and former leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning."

Mr. Ignatieff's Massey residency, which officially begins July 1, is for one year, Mr. Fraser said. He will begin teaching in September for the 2011-2012 academic year and will be on his own in negotiating future academic contracts.

His university appointment caused an instant buzz in Massey College. The college, since its inception 49 years ago, has emphasized engagement in public life in choosing the graduate and professional students who become its junior fellows for up to five years. Several current fellows have had thoughts of entering politics.

They may well find in Mr. Ignatieff a professor appealingly outside the mould.

"I'm quite excited about the next phase of my life," he said. "Without blowing my horn too much, there's not too many people who have been full-scale academics and who've also been the leader of a political party. It's a special experience.

"And there's some things you learn when you've done it, and it's just not in the books. I did it. I've lived it. And I know what's in the books isn't what it's like. Everybody who's done it knows that it's really different - and you want to tell [students]that, not to discourage them from public service but to get them to commit, and take the risks involved.

"I'm very keen on using the time I've got to get people into the game."

Mr. Fraser said in his statement: "Political leadership often comes with onerous burdens and Dr. Ignatieff has met his challenges with both fortitude and imagination. He will be welcome into the university community by both faculty and students and honoured for his commitments to our national life.

"In return we shall have the benefit from his learning and experience."

Mr. Ignatieff has been given a cozy office with a fireplace overlooking Massey's arboured quadrangle. The office includes a small monastic bedroom, a private bathroom and floor-to-ceiling book shelves. Mr. Ignatieff's Toronto home is a nearby condo in the downtown area.

Massey is home to 60 graduate students, called junior fellows, during the academic year. Another 60 junior fellows are non-residents, plus there are about a dozen senior residents - which Mr. Ignatieff will now become - with offices around the quad.

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