Prof. Eduardo Canel completed his term as Director of CERLAC on June 30, 2012. He served one year as Interim Director before taking on the full role in 2008. In those five years, he built well on the foundations inherited from his predecesors, very capably guiding the Centre through another challenging era of change.
During Eduardo's tenure, there were major transformations at York in terms of administrative leadership, research prioritization, finanical prospects and ORU (Organized Research Unit) policy. Eduardo deftly navigated these changes, representing CERLAC with great political skill and aplomb.
He earned the respect and appreciation of his colleagues as he took on a leadership role upholding the shared interests of York's research centres in a process of negotiated change to the University's ORU policies.
In the words of CERLAC's Founding Director, Prof. Emeritus Louis Lefeber: "Of the various ways Eduardo contributed to CERLAC's benefit, I believe his determined fight for academic independence is among the most important. He became CERLAC director at a time when changes in the University Administration brought about new and increasingly complex problems for ORU administrations. In lengthy discussions with other ORUs and difficult negotiations with the Administration, Eduardo, with his admirably civilized and collegial ways, fought against some of the most onerous demands against the academic independence of CERLAC and ORUs in general, such as fixed term limits for the functioning of ORUs. ... Eduardo can be proud of what he accomplished, and we can be grateful for what he contributed as our Director."
He also diversified and strengthened CERLAC's instutional friendships within York, developing strong collaborative ties with other research centres (such as the Cenre for Refugee Studies, with which CERLAC is working jointly on a major initiative) and reinforcing its connection with the office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation (VPRI). CERLAC's relocation into the newly constructed York Research Tower (into a suite whose layout was largely designed by Eduardo and then-Coordinator Shana Shubbs) also took place during his term. Doubtlessly the open, shared-space configuration of the new building has contributed to the spirit of comraderie and collaboration that has flourished among the Centres on the 8th floor, but just as certainly Eduardo's personality and communication style have been instrumental.
"I have had the good fortune to work collaboratively with Eduardo on a major initiative that crosses the research interests of both CERLAC and CRS - forced displacement in Colombia," says outgoing Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS) Director, Prof. Susan McGrath. "We have worked with colleagues in Colombia to develop the Latin America Network on Forced Migration ... Eduardo is skilled at engaging people from all sectors and in working towards agreement and shared commitment. CERLAC and CRS now have strong ties. I have much enjoyed working with him as have other CRS members."
Eduardo also built or reinforced strong partnerships outside the University, maintaining CERLAC's profile with key granting agencies, undertaking joint projects with partners such as CEBEM (Centro Boliviano de Estudios Multidisciplinarios) and CALACS (the Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies), and continuing to work with an array of academic and civil society partners – some of them long-term friends of CERLAC, some of them new - in Canada and throughout the region on various project initiatives.
Former CALACS President Maria del Carmen Suescun Pozas: "Building on a long history of collaboration between the two organizations, Eduardo helped consolidate a strong CALACS/CERLAC institutional partnership that is mutually beneficial. His commitment to expanding and diversifying member networks that benefit from strong programs, multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary networks, and expansive and diverse opportunities for the interchange of research findings relevant to development and area studies in Canada and of interest to researchers, policy makers and Canadian society is truly inspiring. As colleague, Eduardo is incredibly supportive and generous, a real pleasure to work with."
"Always supportive and kind... CERLAC had in Eduardo an organized and visionary director"
Delores Figueroa (PhD, Political Science)
"Thanks to Eduardo for his unflagging support for advancing a great variety of projects and events proposed by Fellows!"
Liisa North (CERLAC Fellow, Professor emeritus, Political Science)
"For me, particularly important were the wonderful ways in which Eduardo was able listen to all of us, as diverse as we (thankfully) are in our beliefs, ideas and opinions. And, when necessary, to distill these tensions into a common position for the sake of moving our Centre forward ..."
Harry Smaller (CERLAC Fellow, Professor emeritus, Education)
"Eduardo Canel is respected by his ORU colleagues not only for his leadership of CERLAC but for his active participation and contributions to the Council of Research Directors. He thoughtfully and respectfully raises what could be contentious issues in a way that encourages dialogue and reduces defensiveness."
Susan McGrath (Outgoing Director, Centre for Refugee Studies)
Externally, the funding environment also underwent significant changes during Eduardo's term, as CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) radically changed its granting structures, priority areas and political orientation, to CERLAC's detriment. SSHRC (the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council), meanwhile, introduced a new funding architecture very much in sync with the Centre's research interests and with its traditional approach to community-engaged, equitable project partnerships based in the South. Eduardo effectively mobilized research teams and supportive resources to capitalize on these new opportunities, and in so doing has helped to realize a priority identified by CERLAC in its 2009 six-year strategic plan: the goal of strengthening and diversifying research in the Centre.
One manifestation of this greater emphasis on research is CERLAC's success with grants, its having received since 2010 two significant multi-year Partnership Development grants from SSHRC, with various other initiatives in gestation. This signifies a marked shift from the older paradigm at CERLAC in which it dedicated its main institutional energies to major capacity-building projects (with a secondary research dimension) in the South, generally funded by CIDA.
This success with grants stems, in turn, from Eduardo's having nurtured strong research teams on different topics, and his building greater research support capacity within CERLAC. Most impressively, he has put CERLAC on the map as a leading research institution on the topic of global extractive industry: from the establishment of a York-based research group, to the organization in 2009 of a major international conference on the topic, to the subsequent formation of a project team of international experts, the organization of various special conference sessions in venues such as CALACS and LASA, and leading ultimately to one of the aforementioned SSHRC grants, with CERLAC Fellow David Szablowski as principal investigator.
On behalf of the Extractive Industries Research Group, David comments: "Eduardo's support has been quite simply indispensable to the EI work that has been coming out of CERLAC over these past years. In CERLAC, Eduardo has provided a grounded and supportive space for nurturing collaborative research. While researchers are all too often pulled in different directions with competing responsibilities, Eduardo could be counted on to retain focus, ask the essential questions, and to provide critical institutional resources and know-how. I am enormously grateful to Eduardo for his support as director of CERLAC. His efforts in promoting research at the Centre have been truly invaluable."
The greater emphaisis on research is but one of the internal changes within CERLAC overseen by Eduardo; others include: The strengthening of the Centre's Caribbean dimension, greatly advanced under the co-leadership of Deputy Director Andrea Davis, recruited for the role largely to pursue this goal (see more about Andrea's contributions here). The diversification of membership and reinforcement of the Centre's multidisciplinary character, drawing in new Fellows from across all faculties at York. An updating of CERLAC's governance structures, to render the Execuive Committee more lithe and transparent and to formally incorporate student representation. Again with Andrea, the expansion of space for student involvement in CERLAC more generally, with a significant product of this effort being the establishment of a bi-annual graduate student research conference, organized by students and highlighting an international array of diverse work on regional topics.
Michelle Switzer (PhD Candidate, Social Anthropology) offers the following observation, from a student perspective: "During his time as director, Eduardo proved an excellent source of advice, information and encouragement for students, creating a welcoming environment at CERLAC. Even with his busy schedule he made time to meet with students (such as myself) personally to provide guidance through the research process, and supported useful initiatives, such as the Latin American Politics Research Group."
Summing up, incoming Director Prof. Andrea Davis affirms that "Eduardo has provided invaluable leadership in his role as Director and has successfully guided CERLAC during a critical period, helping us to expand regional activities and promote interdisciplinary research."
Eduardo will be much missed by his friends and colleagues during his well-deserved year of sabbatical in 2012-13. We look forward to his ongoing presence in CERLAC upon his return, and thank him profoundly for his 5 years of making us proud as the Centre's very capable Director.