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Munk School's Janice Stein talks about leaving her post

Janice Stein, political scientist and director of the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Since her arrival at the University of Toronto nearly three decades ago, political scientist Janice Stein has done much to make her mark on campus and on the city beyond. The tiny scholar with the big red glasses has schooled thousands of first-year students on the basics of international relations, authored books and articles and become a widely known TV pundit. She's also put her diplomatic smarts to the test fundraising and creating a go-to place in Toronto for international affairs. Now, one of the city's most recognizable academics has decided to move on. She's leaving her post as director of the recently renamed Munk School of Global Affairs next year and will return to teaching after a sabbatical. Prof. Stein, 67, is going out with a bang. She recently landed a fundraising one-two punch with a $35-million gift from mining millionaire Peter Munk and $25-million from the federal government. All this and a previous $25-million contribution from Ontario is allowing the school to expand to a second building on Bloor Street and offer its own masters degree. Earlier in the year, the school's Citizen Lab also rocked the world with its outing of a massive online espionage network based in China that was tapping into e-mails, including those of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama. Already, it has been quite a year.

Why leave now? Isn't this what you have been working towards for ten years?

Absolutely. I also believe a test of an institution is how well it deals with succession. I think 10 years is a long time for a person to hold the same job.

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When did you decide to step down?

When I became confident that we were going to succeed I thought to myself, well, it's time. I've been thinking this over for the past year to 18 months. If I didn't think I could leave, it would be very sobering in terms of the sustainability of the institution.

What are your plans?

I am going to take my leave for two years and go away someplace really peaceful and write a book. There are lots of tempting offers from all around the world. I wouldn't mind someplace warm, somewhere in Europe or the Middle East. I am not a big fan of rain. I will come back and teach in the school as a faculty member once the new director is well established.

So this is not retirement?

Absolutely not. I have taught the introductory course in international relations forever.

Who will be the competitors of the new Munk School?

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The School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the Woodrow Wilson Centre at Princeton, the London School of Economics. One of the questions we had was "Why do Canadians have to leave Canada to get a professional degree in this field?" And we should be attracting outstanding international students.

There are other new schools, like the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo. How many does Ontario or the country need?

I think we need a lot. When I started my career, international relations was a segregated subject. There was a division between international and domestic. I think this is a recognition that the division between domestic and international is gone. There is no big issue where having a deep understanding of the international is not important.

I have heard the term "academic entrepreneur" applied to you. How do you feel about that?

I think it is a very useful term. It combines two strains of the conversation that are both important. One is the academic part. I have never given up research and I have never left the classroom. I think that is a very important part of being credible with your colleagues and your students. The entrepreneur part really speaks to the willingness to engage with the world, the whole emphasis that we have had on being a space in the City of Toronto for people to have conversations about global issues - to do high-quality work and to translate that knowledge into language that people can understand so that the community understands why this is so important.

How has the work of the Citizen Lab's increased the school's profile?

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We have one of the world's leaders here. I don't use that language lightly. The private sector, governments from all around the world are coming to seek advice. It's really interesting because what makes it unique is not so much that this information may not be known, but others that know it can't talk about it publicly.

If you look back how it came about, it really is bottom-up innovation in the best sense of the word. [Lab director]Ron Deibert came to me with an unproven idea. I gave him seed money and a home in the basement. But then it took five or six or seven years before the results became visible.

When people ask me what the Munk Centre was, the answer I give is, it created safe places for people to take risks in a longer time horizon. You don't always succeed. There were projects that seemed very promising that you don't know about because they didn't succeed. It's very important to talk about that.

You are a student of diplomacy. How have you applied the lessons you learned to your work at the school?

This whole thing has been an exercise in diplomacy. Given what I study, you develop an understanding and an intuition for building coalitions in order to make some challenging things happen. You recognize that conflict is part of it and you don't attempt to avoid it outright. When change of this magnitude happens, conflict is an inevitable part of it. And also you develop some appetite for reasonable risk, because if you don't take some risk, you are not likely to succeed. If you look at the Middle East, there is a vocabulary about taking risks for peace. The safest thing is to stay with the status quo, or it feels safe. It is safe in the short term, but not in the long term.

When you began your career, you were one of the few women in this area. Was that hard?

There were not a lot of women role models ahead of me. At times it was more different. People have said, "What does a women know about international security? These are tough topics." The answer to that is in results. As you demonstrate that you do know something, those comments go away. There have been real changes. I think that ceiling is cracked. My career has been wonderful in that ... I have seen a lot of things that I care about happen. That's not given to everyone.

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