Celebrated U of W politics professor retires

Dr. Christopher Leo studied African, city politics; university struggles to find replacement

Revered University of Winnipeg politics professor Christopher Leo is retiring. Dylan Hewlett

After nearly four decades in the University of Winnipeg’s politics department, Dr. Christopher Leo - best known for his expertise in city politics - is ready to retire.

In a recent interview with The Uniter, Leo confirmed his retirement, effective this fall term.

After becoming a member of the faculty in 1976, Leo spent the earlier portion of his academic career studying and teaching primarily African and third-world politics - at one point living in Kenya for more than two years, where he observed the nation’s agrarian politics and became fluent in Swahili.

Later, he would publish his findings in the form of a book entitled Land and Class in Kenya, which explores the country’s longstanding, colonialism-rooted culture of agricultural land disputes.

Out of necessity, Leo would gradually take on city politics courses during his time at the university and began to develop a deeper interest in the subject matter.

“I felt I had done what I’d wanted to do in African politics (after the book was published),” Leo said.

“I was happy to move to city politics because it was another area where I thought there was a lot that could still be done that hadn’t been done already.”

Up until this academic year, Leo served as the resident city politics expert in the university’s politics department, instructing courses that were consistently popular with students - no doubt in part due to the professor’s equally popular personal reputation.

Not one to shy away from offering his own critical opinion, Leo expressed clear dissatisfaction with his own city’s civic political situation.

“I don’t think that Winnipeg is well governed,” he said. “It’s not nearly as democratically governed as it could be and should be.”

But that, according to Leo, is one of the reasons he teaches city politics in the first place: so that his students can one day make things better for themselves.

“What I tell my students is, ‘I want you to look at the city, decide what you like about it and what you don’t like about it, and then figure out how you can go about changing the things that you don’t like - and don’t be afraid to speak up,’” he said.

Dr. Sarpong Peou, chair of the politics department, called Leo “one of the most interesting, productive, (and) prolific scholars in the field,” adding the department is having difficulty finding a full-time replacement for Leo, in part due to a lack of funding.

Brian Kelcey, who’s been involved in various aspects of Canadian politics for the past 20 years - including working three years in Winnipeg’s mayoral office as budget advisor - was hired on Leo’s recommendation on a one-year basis, according to Peou.

Though Leo will no longer be instructing at the university, he plans to continue work on a research grant project over the course of the next few years.

For more information on Dr. Leo’s past and current research, visit http://blog.uwinnipeg.ca/ChristopherLeo.

Published in Volume 67, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 5, 2012)

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