Alumnus Joel Bakan

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SFU's innovative education lays foundation for acclaimed law professor and writer

October 03, 2017
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By Ian Bryce

Few can claim to have as remarkable a career and education as Joel Bakan.

A renowned law professor specializing in constitutional and commercial law at the University of British Columbia, he won a Rhodes scholarship and completed law degrees from Oxford, Dalhousie and Harvard. He articled with Chief Justice of Canada, the Right Honourable Brian Dickson, and contributed to landmark legal cases and government policy.

Bakan is also well known as the writer of the bestselling book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and the award-winning 2004 documentary of the same name.

An SFU alumnus, he received the Governor General’s Gold Medal as SFU’s top graduate when he graduated in 1981 with a BA in psychology.

Bakan says his undergraduate experience at SFU was innovative compared to other universities at the time.

“My experience at SFU was incredibly multi-disciplinary,” he says. “I think the mix of arts, fine arts, and sciences was uniquely SFU and breaking ground, which the university continues to do.”

He also says his time at SFU was foundational to his career.

“I really feel indebted and very grateful to SFU for the experience it gave me,” Bakan says. “I believe that the experience of my first four years were formative to my intellect and my sense of what I wanted to do in, and for, the world.”

A 2012 SFU Outstanding Alumni Award winner, Bakan continues to push boundaries with his own work. A frequent media commentator on Canadian and global issues, he says that little has changed since publishing The Corporation in 2003.

“Corporations have become more powerful and we’ve seen major corporate disasters like British Petroleum’s oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and the 2008 financial meltdown—it doesn’t feel like the problems we identified are being solved,” he says. “If anything, things are getting worse.”

Bakan is working on a new book and film that address how corporations are allegedly changing and embracing the idea of social responsibility and sustainability.

“We had called corporations psychopaths and now they’re saying they’re cured,” says Bakan. “That raises the obvious question of ‘is this a reality?’ I think that when we have to rely on corporations as being leaders in activism in society, we’re in trouble.”

Bakan anticipates the book and film will be released in late 2018.