Even if the conclusions he sometimes draws are extremely dubious, one can very well assume that Michael Byers' position at the University of British Columbia is fairly safe.
But even if he wasn't worn out his welcome with the faculty or administration at UBC, apparently Byers has worn out his welcome with the editorial staff of the University newspaper, the Ubyessy:
"Last week, UBC political science professor, failed NDP Candidate, and media gadfly Michael Byers went on a hunger strike as part of the 2010 Homelessness Hunger Strike Relay. When we heard the news, virtually every member of The Ubyssey editorial staff winced. And not just because it was a self-serving media stunt that reeked of martyrdom and did little to serve the actual cause of homelessness. Since he arrived on campus in 2004, we’ve seen, heard, and written more about Byers than is merited given his accomplishments—however impressive they might be. He’s written many a book, comes off as incredibly thoughtful in interviews, and people who take his classes generally have nice things to say. That’s the case with a lot of academics though—and we don’t see many thrusting themselves into the public spotlight with the gusto Byers does.Ouch.
But Byers isn’t an academic at this point; he’s a politician. He ran for the NDP last election, he plans to run again for them in the next election and he’s ready to criticize the Harper government about anything at the drop of a dime. Except he—and reporters who use him for his good quotes and pretty face—still refer to him as an “international law expert,” even when he’s talking about the Olympics, the economic crisis, or any other subject that has nothing to do with international law. An academic imparts his learned knowledge on an issue, and a politicians promotes himself and his particular views. With Byers, the line is certainly blurred. At this point, whenever he publicly promotes a cause, it’s difficult to tell: is he promoting an important issue, or is he promoting Michael Byers and the NDP?
We know that even though his actual job is a UBC professor, UBC students aren’t exactly his first priority. After all, this past semester plenty of graduate students signed up for his class on global politics, but when they got to their first class, he told them that due to the upcoming election the class would be cancelled. He then proceeded to tell them why he was running, why students should vote for him, and, by the way, if anyone wanted to volunteer for him, that would be super awesome. Not exactly a humble display from the socially conscious professor.
All of which has led us to conclude the following: we’re tired of Byers; tired of talking about him, tired of hearing about him, and tired of his pseudo-self promotion. Michael Byers, we’re taking a cue from Stephen Colbert: you’re on notice."
One would have to think that this isn't exactly the kind of treatment Byers would want from the Ubyessy.
But it's interesting to note the distinction the newspaper has made in this particular case: Byers is no longer an academic, according to the Ubyessy editors. He's now a politician.
Certainly, Byers is not alone in this regard. University of Calgary professor Tom Flanagan has taken leaves of absence to work as a strategist for the Conservative party -- including during the 2008 federal election alluded to in this editorial. Flanagan, like Byers, hasn't been shy about his political views either.
The Ubyessy editorial raises an interesting question: should seeking a political career preclude an individual from continuing to work as an academic?
Some may be tempted to say "yes" to this question. But those who would do so need to consider the obvious implications of such an answer. Many academics take leaves of absence from their universities or think tanks in order to run in elections. If they were to be precluded from doing so the ranks of potential political candidates would shrink dramatically.
It would also deprive our political system of vast quantities of expertise on a variety of topics, including Byers' purported area of expertise, international law.
Certainly, this doesn't make Byers any less insufferable. Nor does it make Tom Flanagan any less insufferable to those who disagree with him.
But the Ubyessy editors would be very amiss if they were to suggest that academics should be denied the opportunity to run for politican office, even if it means they might become -- gasp! -- politicians.
Fortunately, they don't really try to argue that particular point.
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