Professor takes interdisciplinary approach
After twelve years of shaping policy from abroad, Dr. Michael Byers has returned to Canada as a Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC.
"I'm very excited to be working in a public university...I'm very pleased to by the sense of dynamism and ambition at UBC," he said.
Byers, who has analysed everything from international humanitarian issues to Europe-US relations, is internationally recognised for his critical assessment of international law as it relates to global political phenomena.
"International law is heavily politicised but on the other hand its not simply politics," explained Byers, emphasising the influence of international law on foreign policy.
"The 1991 Gulf War was paid for financially mostly by Germany and Japan. The 2003 Iraq war and occupation is paid for almost entirely by the US, resulting in the largest budget deficit in American history. That's in part the result of the United States' failure to abide by the widely accepted view of international law. It's an enforcement mechanism which will discourage the US from doing this type of thing in the future."
A proponent of and a model for academic interdisciplinarity, Byers defies traditional academic catergorisation.
"People often forget that academic disciplines are artificial. They are the creations of academics and universities, attempts to grapple with specific problems at specific periods of time. In studying contemporary international events and trends you have to be overtly willing to draw on different disciplinary backgrounds if you want to make any satisfactory progress at all," he said.
"It's not that interdisciplinarity is a choice, interdisciplinarity is a necessity, when dealing with new issues."
Byers, who also speaks French and German, has a double honours degree in English Literature and Political Science from the University of Saskatchewan, a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Civil Laws from McGill University, and a PhD in International Law from Cambridge University.
A Halifax native whose teaching career has seen him at Oxford and Duke Universities, Byers said coming back to Canada was "a personal decision."
"The only reason to leave [Duke University] was that I wanted to come back...to teach Canadian students."
"I wanted to have a policy impact in Canada as opposed to in the United States."
Along with holding the Research Chair, Byers is also the Academic Director at the Liu Institute and a professor in the Department of Political Science.
"Dr. Byers wants to get students and the UBC community involved in global issues," said Peggy Ng, Liu Institute Administrator.
Last fall, Byers led a graduate seminar called "Current Issues in Global Politics and International Law." The seminar involved seeking to influence policy development, and included a discussion of the US attack on Fallujah on CBC radio.
"It was certainly the most rewarding class I've ever taught...without a doubt the best students I've ever taught, and I have taught at Duke and Oxford so I suppose that's saying something."
Byers is currently teaching a fourth-year honours seminar on the politics and law of military force and plans to offer it next year as a 300-level Political Science course.
"This [politics and the law of military force] has been the focus of my academic research in the last four or five years. I will teach as many students as want to come.
Byers enthusiasm for his work has impressed his colleagues.
"Dr. Byers has devoted tremendous energy to academic research on behalf of the Liu Institute," said Allen Sens, chair of the International Relations program. "He has demonstrated enthusiasm for both graduate and undergraduate studies, and has made an effort to include undergraduates.
"The fact he is able to do this on top of everything else he is doing is a remarkable testament to his time and energy."
A former sports writer for University of Saskatchewan's student newspaper, The Sheaf, Byers regularly contributes to The Globe and Mail, London Review of Books, and La Presse..
"Any person who writes for newspapers about politics will tell you that sports and politics reporting is almost the exact same thing," he joked.