Graduate Liberal Studies Program New Acting Director, Professor Gary McCarron

February 02, 2024

Professor Gary McCarron joined the Graduate Liberal Studies program over a decade ago, and this year he assumed the role of Acting Director for GLS. Gary, who has served as the Graduate Chair within GLS and as an Associate Professor in the School of Communication, is eager to enhance the recruitment and public outreach efforts of GLS.

Read more from our interview with Gary as he shares his thoughts on GLS and discusses the upcoming Summer 2024 travel study course.

What motivated you to take on this new role as the Acting Director of GLS and what are your goals/vision for this year?

I have tremendous respect for the GLS Director, Sasha Colby, so when she asked if I would consider taking on the role of acting director during her leave, I was inspired by her confidence in me to say yes. My principal goals are mainly to ensure that the program continues to develop in terms of recruitment and public outreach. Sasha initiated a series of important changes to the program in terms of hybrid teaching which we continue to do, and regular Open House meetings to attract potential grads. I have also managed to persuade one of my colleagues from the School of Communication, Martin Laba, to offer a graduate course in GLS in the fall of this year on “Currencies and Histories of Popular Music.” It should be a fantastic offering for our students. We will also be hosting well-known author, Adam Gopnik, in March, this year’s Babcock Lecture speaker. Finally, I am organizing a travel study course to Spain in the early Summer of this year on the history, culture, and philosophy of Andalusia, so we are quite busy.

Having been a part of SFU School of Communication for several years, what motivated you to join the GLS team as an instructor? In what ways does GLS differ from other programs within SFU?

I started splitting my time between Communication and GLS over a decade ago, mainly because GLS provided me with opportunities to teach in areas that would not have fit as easily in my teaching rotation in Communication. For instance, I was always interested in certain philosophical issues relating to the interface between society and religion, and the first course I taught in GLS, Mercy and Regret: An Inquiry into the Nature of Forgiveness and Apologies, spoke to that connection in ways that allowed me to exploit more fully my background in moral philosophy.  

Graduate Liberal Studies differs from other university programs in a number of ways, not the least of which is that we are the only part-time graduate program at SFU. But there are other factors, too. GLS was formed over 40 years ago to provide academic opportunities for an underserviced population, people who had completed a BA with the intent of returning to graduate school, but who found that life, work, and the demands of family made it difficult to return to the academy right away. This means that we enrol many people who are well along in their careers and sometimes even retired. In other words, it is an ‘older’ population of students who may have been out of the university system for many years. Graduate Liberal Studies allows them to reacquaint themselves with some of the classical texts in the Western intellectual tradition, and their enthusiasm is one of the things I most cherish about the program. I often tell my colleagues that if I recommend a particular book to one of my GLS students, the chances are very good that they are actually going to go out and read it!

What specific themes or topics will be the focus of the Summer 2024 Field Study?

This summer’s travel study course will be to Granada, Córdoba, and Seville – Andalusian Spain, in other words. Our principal goals will be to explore the blending of Muslim/Christian/Jewish art, literature, poetry, and architecture that characterizes Andalusia; to examine the transmission of Greek learning from Baghdad to Córdoba and on to Western Europe via Muslim philosophers such as Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and Jewish philosophers such as Maimonides (Musa ibn Maymun); and to assess the degree to which Muslim rule in Andalusia was successful in creating a society and culture based on toleration of disparate religious and cultural communities and to see if this experiment in attempting to live with difference speaks to our current global conflicts. We read several books that deal with this period of Spanish history including the award-winning book by historian, Maria Rosa Menocal, The Ornament of the World, as well as histories that offer different accounts of that period, including Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain. In short, the course on Andalusia gives us a great opportunity to do what GLS does best: Provide a range of perspectives on an important topic from a variety of historical, political, cultural –
and in this case, theological – points of view. We also get to spend two weeks in Southern Spain, and that’s not an incidental consideration!

Interested in applying for the Graduate Liberal Studies Program? 

We are currently accepting applications for the Fall 2024 Cohort. The deadline is April 29, 2024.
Please contact us for more information.