Former director of the Institute of International Relations (IIR) at UWI, St Augustine and political scientist Prof Andy Knight has been named Distinguished Professor at the University of Alberta, a leading Canadian university.
Knight, a Barbadian by birth, discussed the recognition with Newsday in a WhatsApp exchange.
"Being recognised as University of Alberta Distinguished Professor is a real honour, but also a very humbling experience. You have to bear in mind that this is one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on a professor at the university."
He pointed out he was promoted to full professor very early on in his career (in 2000), and in 2011 he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada – the top honour in Canada reserved for scholars from all branches of learning who have made remarkable contributions in the arts, the humanities and the sciences, as well as in Canadian public life.
"But being given this specific designation of Distinguished Professor at my university is special because, as provost and vice principal (academic) of the University of Alberta (Dr Steven Dew) put it: this appointment 'recognises your outstanding record of scholarly research, teaching and service to the university and community.' So, it is very humbling to realise that my university recognises my contributions in such a public way."
He explained the designation means he will be given the financial resources, time and space to continue the work he has been doing ever since he arrived at the university in 1998. He again cited the letter from the provost, who said his leadership, especially in “global governance,” is “more relevant than ever given our current global political climate."
Knight said the designation will also attract publishers and the media to his work, the substance of which can be found in several newspaper opinion pieces, journal articles, book chapters, edited collections and co-authored and single-authored books.
"It sort of gives my 'currency' to the focus of my research."
He added: "Essentially, the designation really allows me to continue on with the public intellectual work I have been doing over the years. As one of my mentors and colleagues, Prof Ivelaw Griffith, another distinguished Caribbean scholar told me upon hearing the news of my new designation... 'Andy, keep on keeping on.'”
Pride of the Knight
Knight said he is very proud of the work he has done with his former graduate students and colleagues. He noted the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded research work on female suicide bombers with his former PhD student Tanya Narozhna, which resulted in an award-winning book published by the University of Toronto Press. He also cited his work on Home Grown Terrorism with his former PhD student John McCoy, which has become required reading in many strategic and security studies courses across the globe, and his work on Piracy in the Horn of Africa with another former grad student, Afyare Elmi, which will be published as a book "fairly soon."
"I am of the view that mentorship is an important part of my role as a professor. So, I am particularly delighted to have been able to work with and mentor some excellent graduate students who have gone on to do extraordinary work in their own right."
Knight said he was especially proud of his book with his former colleague Tom Keating, on Global Politics, published by Oxford University Press, which has now become required reading in many undergraduate and graduate courses on international relations in the US, Canada and the UK (hopefully also in the Caribbean).
"I am happy if my research work has relevance to our current world affairs."
Equality and 'polite racism'
Knight said his research work and writings cover a broad gamut of issues having to do with issues of relevance to the world today.
"The challenge which I continue to expose is that the general public is not always fully aware of these situations on the ground. And if people are, they sometimes feel powerless to do anything about them. It is our job, as public intellectuals, to shed light on what is happening in the dark corners of the earth and do our best to agitate on behalf of those who are not able to fight back against cruel and autocratic governments."
Knight's father was a preacher, and his family includes Barbados's first premier Sir Grantley Adams and Sir Grantley’s son and second prime minister Tom Adams. He recalled as a boy growing up in Barbados his family had the BBC news on the Rediffusion radio, and later the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation became a constant feature in the home.
"Because I come from both political and religious stock, I had no choice but to be exposed to issues of justice, equality, equity and fairness. These social justice issues were inculcated into my very being from early.
"Unfortunately, while we have made some advances as humanity, we are still very far away from being that just society which my father used to preach about in his powerful Sunday sermons or my family members who were heavily involved in politics would demand in their equally potent speeches at political rallies."
Knight also spoke on the “George Floyd moment," the killing of the 46-year-old black man in May last year in Minneapolis by white police officer Derek Chauvin, which sparked protests and riots.
"(It) was just another reminder to me that we are still suffering the consequences of the 400 years of legacy of slavery in North America. Racism is alive and well and living in the United States of America. And in Canada, while our brand of racism, tends to be 'polite,' it is there embedded in the institutional structures within our society.
"The Caribbean is not immune from racism and from the legacies of colonialism which continues to divide our people. The huge gaps between the vast numbers of poor and the elite and privileged few is a manifestation of the injustices, inequalities and inequities that pervade our societies. That is a long way of saying that the world unfortunately is not that much more just or fair as when I was a kid growing up in Barbados. Globalisation has made this fact even more stark to us today because we hear and see the injustices across the globe in real time."
Rise of an anti-intellectual world
Knight said he is very concerned about the state of the world, particularly the rise of illiberal democracies.
"What I am witnessing, as I am sure a lot of political scientists are as well, is the deterioration of the values that we used to hold dear in democratic societies."
He said after the January 6 US Capitol attempted coup the world has to reflect on the possibility that democracy in the US could crumble. He added the incident has caused political scientists to take note of the rise in white supremacy and QAnon populism.
"The terrorism, the global pandemic, and the climate change debate have also exposed the reality that there are a large number of people who distrust knowledge, science, and rational thought. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly anti-intellectual. What does this do to politics and political behaviour? This is a subject of particular interest to me right now. It is linked to a new book I am working on which critically analyses what I call this 'new world disorder.'"
Andy the artist
Knight said while he is proud of his academic work he is even prouder of his artwork, which is something not many people in his circle know about. But his first degree, at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, was in fine art and humanities, and he paints, draws and sculpts.
"I almost made the decision to enrol at the Emily Carr School of University of Art and Design in Vancouver, British Columbia. But I was inspired by one of my political science mentors, Prof Kim Nossal, to pursue a graduate degree in political science."
Knight continued to draw and paint in any spare moment he had and his art has been exhibited in places like Bridgetown, New York, Hamilton, North York, Halifax.
"But because I am much more known as a political scientist, not many people in my field are aware of that side of me. Yet, I consider art and music as inherent. They are an intrinsic part of who I am as a person.
"I don’t have as much time these days to pursue the fine arts. I keep a sketchbook to draw things that I think could be turned into large paintings later on. Who knows, maybe one day, on a sabbatical, I may be able to get back into the studio and produce a lot more artwork than I am currently able to do at the moment."
Knight served as director of the Institute of International Relations, UWI, St Augustine from 2013-2016.