Vancouver’s mayor can take comfort in the fact that, if things get too fractious at city hall, he can go back to work as a political-science professor.
Kennedy Stewart has been away from his academic job for eight years, first on leave as he served as a federal member of Parliament and now as mayor of Vancouver. He remains technically on leave from his position as a professor of public policy at Simon Fraser University – and has no immediate plans to give that up.
“For me, it would be a great shame to completely sever my relationship with the university,” Mr. Stewart said. “And it’s something I earned through seven years of work.”
Mr. Stewart said he was granted the possibility of 10 years of leave when he was first elected as an MP in 2011, which means it is up in 2021.
However, SFU spokesperson Angela Wilson said Mr. Stewart’s leave only extends to August of this year and can only be extended by a faculty vote. She added the university supports political leaves.
Mr. Stewart has continued to oversee doctoral-thesis projects and done some other work for his department, but, like anyone on leave, he does not receive any pension or other benefits for his years away.
“However, the [next civic] election is in 2022 so I have to do some thinking,” he said, noting that he had an informal conversation with SFU president Andrew Petter about it recently and didn’t hear about any problems.
That makes his absence from the classroom one of the longer ones that’s been given for political leaves in the province.
The University of British Columbia has a policy of only allowing seven years maximum. In general, postsecondary institutions limit long leaves by existing faculty as it is felt to be unfair to younger professors or instructors who are trying to get permanent, full-time jobs.
In the meantime, his position has been filled by a series of younger scholars who are given temporary contracts. The current holder of that position is Josh Gordon, an academic who has made a name for himself by commenting extensively on the scope and negative impact of foreign ownership of real estate in Vancouver.
Ms. Wilson, the SFU spokesperson, insists that Mr. Stewart’s leave is not blocking the way for younger academics to be hired permanently.
“When an employee is on political leave at SFU, we do not hold their position, we hire as needed,” Ms. Wilson wrote. “The policy states that ‘upon completion of political duties, the member of faculty or staff may return to the university to a position comparable to that vacated’ – so we do not hold their job for them.”
However, Mr. Gordon declined to speak to a city-hall reporter during the recent civic election, saying he was in a conflict of interest because of the way his job is dependent on Mr. Stewart’s absence. Mr. Stewart also made it clear he sees Mr. Gordon as the latest in a row of younger academics filling in for his absence. However, he noted that, if he just quit, that might mean the position would be eliminated and so wouldn’t benefit anyone else.
Mr. Gordon declined to comment to The Globe and Mail for this story.
SFU provost and academic vice-president Peter Keller provided a statement saying “SFU supports and encourages faculty who wish to do their civic duty as an elected official. We want our students, staff and faculty to gain experience directly from our communities and we feel this experience is of great value to bring back to share with our students.”
The SFU faculty association did not return repeated calls from The Globe.
However, a former president of the UBC faculty association, Mark Mac Lean, said it’s unusual for any professor to have such a long political leave.
While more than one university professor or college instructor has taken leave to hold political office in Canada over the years, they tend to quit their jobs if their time in politics extends for more than one term.
Some are allowed to absent themselves through special arrangements. UBC’s director of the Liu Institute for Global Affairs, Moura Quayle, was seconded to the provincial government as a deputy minister for advanced education. In that case, UBC paid her salary and then was reimbursed for that by the province.