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David Cameron: helping governments rebuild after conflict

Meet the interim dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science

Interim Dean David Cameron of the Faculty of Arts & Science (photo by Brian Summers)

Political scientist David Cameron, the interim dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, has put his expertise on federalism, Quebec nationalism, French-English relations, constitutional renewal and national unity to use helping countries around the world rebuild and reform their governance structures following periods of ethno-cultural conflict.

During the ceasefire, from 2002 to 2006, he advised the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers on federalism and constitutional reform, making many visits to that country. Under the auspices of the National Democratic Institute in Washington, and CIDA, he went several times to Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq to help lay the groundwork for a new Iraqi State. He wrote a report on the Estonian constitution for the Minister of Justice, and has advised the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Western Sahara. From 2006 to 2012, he worked on the governance component of the Jerusalem Old City Initiative, which proposed a model of political, economic and security organization for that city in the event of a peace agreement. More recently, he has been advising the Somalis on the development of their constitution.

Cameron has also, somehow, found time to serve the University of Toronto by taking on a series of senior administrative positions, beginning with his appointment as vice-president, Institutional Relations in 1985. He was acting chair, Department of Political Science from 2002 to 2003, acting vice-dean of undergraduate education and teaching in the Faculty of Arts & Science in 2003-2004 and chair of the Department of Political Science from 2006-2012. His most recent appointment is as interim dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science beginning May 2013 until June 2014 or when a new dean is appointed.
You have a lot of very exciting things going on in your career.  Why did you agree to take on the interim dean role?

I was asked to give a convocation address a year or so ago. One of the homilies I offered to the graduates was this: “As much as you can, say yes, rather than no. Take on more than you think you can handle. God loves a willing giver.” I’m just putting my money where my mouth is.

Any advice for your colleagues on how to juggle research and administrative work?

Schedule regular research time. Leave your office. Turn off your e-mail. I am better at giving this advice than following it.

What makes the Faculty of Arts & Science unique?

Its size, its complexity, and the awesome pool of talent that lies within it.

What will your priorities be as interim dean?

In any academic administrative job, the first and most important thing you are trying to do is help to release the energies and imagination of the faculty and students who make the university what it is. The title – if not the content – of John Le Carré’s book, The Constant Gardener, comes to mind.  

You are an expert on federalism, Quebec nationalism, French-English relations, constitutional renewal and national unity. What lessons do you take from Canada’s own experiences when you are advising other countries on government reform?

That it is better to talk than fight. That democratic government is messy, but worthwhile. That building a country never ends. That reform is a process that takes time. That ultimately you have to do the heavy lifting yourself.

Have your international experiences affected your perspective on Canada/Toronto and if so, how?

When I come back from one of these trips, I want to make like the Pope and bend down and kiss the ground. We are lucky to live in Canada. Ayelet Shachar in the Law School has written a wonderful book called The Birthright Lottery, which argues that the most significant thing shaping the lives of human beings is the thing over which they have utterly no control: where they are born. Canadians – native born or citizens by choice – have won the lottery hands down.

Kim Luke is a writer with the Faculty of Arts & Science