With an initial $35 million investment from Barrick Gold chairman Peter Munk in 2010, a new building on Bloor for the flagship Masters of Global Affairs program, and the promise of giving students a unique window on the world, the legacy of the Munk School of Global Affairs has so far engendered both prestige and controversy.
Launched in 2010, the Munk School of Global Affairs has re- cently seen its first cohort convocate and make their way into the workforce. The school’s academic initatives and ground- breaking research regularly make international headlines.
Since its inception, the Munk School has been dogged by allegations of undue corporate influence among a handful of outspoken groups on campus, many of whom object to the fact that a mining mogul like namesake donor Munk is so heavily invested at U of T.
“Perhaps the main problem with the Munk contract, which President Naylor signed to establish the Munk School, is that it effectively cedes decision-making power to the corporate sector,” says Jacob Nerenberg, a graduate anthropology student at U of T, in a previous exchange over email.
Sakura Saunders, co-editor of anti-Munk website ProtestBarrick.net, claims that Peter Munk’s mining company Barrick Gold is “leveraging the reputation of the university to avoid government regulation on mining abuses.”
Students at the Munk School tell a different story.
“Never once in my time here have I seen, in light of Peter Munk’s donation, even the slightest indication of impeded academic freedom in any way,” says Graham Smith, currently half-way through the school’s flagship Masters of Global Af- fairs (MGA) program.
Janice Stein, director at the Munk School, says that academic freedom is “in our DNA,” and that students are “free to express their opinions and develop arguments that are supported by the best evidence that they can find.”
In spite of the initial furor over Munk’s influence, it’s hard to ignore how far the Munk School has come in just two short years. The new building on Bloor Street provides a home for the MGA program, doubling the amount of space for students, faculty, and staff. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted in late September was attended by senior administrators from Simcoe Hall as well as provincial cabinet ministers.
Some younger programs like the Global Journalism Fellow- ships, which were launched in September, seem to be getting a strong reception already, turning heads in places like Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab or the headlines of The Globe and Mail.
“Now all of our Fellows are reporting stories for major me- dia; all have pitched stories successfully; some have already been published. Others are in the queue. That’s a lot of prog- ress for a month!” says Robert Steiner, director of the journal- ism fellowship program.
The secret to this rapid and high-profile success, according to students and administrators, is the Munk School’s primary goal of combining real-world experience and lecture material.
“The MGA program is very focused on linking theoretical knowledge and practice of international affairs,” said Smith. “It’s endowing in us professional skills and networks to tap into so that when we get out of here, we can hit the ground running in global affairs careers.”
Fariya Mohiuddin, part of the first cohort of students to graduate from the MGA program, says that it’s the perfect way to pursue higher learning without giving up network- ing and practical skills. She explains that instead of going the traditional route of doing a masters degree and an entry-level position afterwards, MGA graduates can go straight into the professional world.
One of the ways the Munk School provides practical expe- rience, said Mohiuddin, is through the first-year internship program. Although other students suggested that the initial round of internship assignments was bumpy as the school was still brand new and coming into its own, Mohiuddin’s experience — helping the government prep for the annual budget in Bangladesh — was an “incredibly positive experi- ence.” Other students within the program say much the same about their placements.
“I interned at the World Bank in Washington this past sum- mer and it was an amazing opportunity,” says Smith. “Being at a major multi-lateral institution like that, I had so many con- tacts and experiences unparalleled to anything I may have got- ten at another graduate program.”
Another reason for the Munk School’s success, say students, is the receptivity of the faculty. The new “2.0 MGA program,” as Mohiuddin calls it, has been adjusted and tinkered with over the past two years.
“We have received a lot of valuable feedback from the first graduating class of MGA students and have extensively re- vamped our Capstone course to enhance the professional edu- cation that students get,” says Ron Levi, program director for the MGA program.
The Capstone course, Levi says, now offers students re- search opportunities in experimental labs and research proj- ects across campus. For example, professor Joseph Wong’s new interdisciplinary “Global Challenges” course is taught in col- laboration with colleagues from the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, the Rotman School of Management, and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. Those kinds of innovative, cross-faculty courses, says Mohiuddin, weren’t offered in her first year at Munk.
“We knew what we were getting ourselves into, but at the end we all knew we were doing something monumental,” says Mohiuddin.
Stein says this is just the beginning. Her hope is that the MGA program “will be among the best programs internation- ally, a program that students around the world look to as an ex- ample of professional education that is infused with Canadian knowledge and expertise.”