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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

Pioneer prof switches schools

By Ryan MacIsaac
Published: 9:00 am, 21 January 2008
Modified: 6 pm, 11 January 2012
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Political science superstar Thomas Homer-Dixon is leaving U of T for a position at the start-up Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, beginning this July.

Homer-Dixon came to U of T in 1989 after completing a PhD at MIT. He rose to prominence with the 1991 article “On the Threshold: Environmental changes as causes of acute conflict,” which caught the attention of academics and policy-makers worldwide. Subsequent work followed this strain, including the award-winning books The Ingenuity Gap and The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, among others.

Homer-Dixon currently holds the George Ignatieff Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. David Welch, director of the centre, credited Homer-Dixon with “[taking the] small research centre on peace and conflict issues, renamed it the Trudeau Centre, and brought it global recognition.”

Homer-Dixon said he is moving towards an intensely interdisciplinary approach on issues of scarcity, conflict, and complex systems. “I don’t feel the University of Toronto is particularly well-suited to allow me to do that research.”

Waterloo’s smaller, closer-knit community, he said, allows for the clearer, more focused vision that he desires.

“Sometimes you reach a watershed where you think about what you’re going to do for the next section of your life,” he said.

A joint venture between the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, the Balsillie School was funded by a $50-million gift from Jim Balsillie. Balsillie is the founder of Research in Motion, the company that produces Blackberry handhelds.

Despite his misgivings about U of T’s structure and direction, Homer-Dixon spoke glowingly of his colleagues, principals, and mentors in University College, and most of all, his students. “The best thing about [the Trudeau Centre] is the students. We’ve somehow got something going on here that attracts just truly wonderful people, interesting people who will make a real difference.”

“This is going to be an emotionally wrenching thing. I have deep roots and deep commitments and a lot of friends on this campus.”