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Clare McGovern teaches skills to use anywhere
Register to vote. That’s Clare McGovern’s message to her students in the Department of Political Science at Simon Fraser University (SFU) as we near the federal election.
“Politicians are less likely to focus on people in their late teens and twenties and therefore young people get the short end of the stick,” McGovern says. “Politicians focus on making individual pensions or health care more secure because older people turn out to vote whereas things like education and the housing crisis sometimes fall off the agenda because the people most affected by those issues aren’t putting political pressure on their representatives.”
McGovern develops her students’ understanding of the political system by assigning them community-based projects. Working with Elections B.C. and Samara Centre for Democracy, past classes have designed voter registration drives on campus during election and referendum campaigns as well as in-class trade simulations carried out with the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada.
McGovern was appointed to a continuing position as a lecturer in the political science department in April 2019 after teaching on a limited term appointment for the past three years. She took a unique path to becoming a professor, completing a law degree at Oxford University followed by a stint the U.K.’s National Audit Office before turning to her twin loves of politics and Canada. A Commonwealth Master’s Scholarship to the University of British Columbia, where she also got her PhD, was followed by a post-doctorate fellowship at Quest University in Squamish. Along the way McGovern grew interested in teaching and getting students ready for the professional world by giving them the skills they need to enter the job market.
“I always say to students it’s less about the exact content of what you learn because the world is changing so fast that in three or four years’ time the exact content of what you learned may have moved on,” McGovern says. “I try to instill research design, critical thinking and argumentation skills. If you have those you can always update your knowledge yourself and you can use those skills anywhere.”
In addition to teaching, McGovern has appeared in the media lately discussing the intricacies and intrigues of Brexit which she defines as the most pivotal moment in British politics since World War II.
“I’m very concerned about the health of democracy in the U.K. at the moment,” McGovern says. “And concerned about populism and distrust all across the Western world.”
McGovern has noticed that as populist movements gain ground it’s getting harder for people to have open debates where they really listen to one another.
“People think that they’ve got all their ideas worked out and are less willing to accept when their opinions might be challenged,” McGovern says. “This can affect academic debate and classroom discussion too.”