Supporting and championing Black faculty members

A Q & A with Andy Knight, Provost Fellow in Black Excellence and Leadership.

Andy Knight

Andy Knight is the Provost Fellow in Black Excellence and Leadership and professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science. When he began working at the U of A in 1998, Andy Knight was one of few Black faculty members. Over the years he has made it his mission to tirelessly support and champion Black faculty members. Quad had the pleasure of interviewing Andy about his work in this area, the importance of mentorship and his hopes for the future.

You began your role as Provost Fellow about a year ago. What are your top accomplishments?

My first accomplishment was to meet with several faculty and college deans. I met with as many of them as possible because I want to be able to express my desire for the university en masse to deal with the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). The responsibility has to be placed on the shoulders of all of them. They're willing to meet and support the notion of EDI and Black excellence and leadership and this sends a good signal to the rest of the faculty, to the staff and to the students.

I'm working closely with Carrie Smith, vice-provost, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, on contributing to what is coming next after the EDI strategic plan. Part of my job is to try to get as much feedback as we possibly can to make sure that the new plan is inclusive of the voices of the many people across the university. 

I'm focused on decolonizing the university curriculum, which is the other big thing that I have on my plate. If you go back to the Scarborough Charter, we signed on to decolonizing the university's curriculum as one of the priorities. We have a university curriculum that is geared towards a Eurocentric view of the world. Sometimes we leave out the scholarship, the methodologies and the normative thinking of individuals from areas like Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean as well as the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit/Indigenous ways of knowing.

Speaking of which, one of the events on campus for Black History Month is the Pan-African Symposium: Decolonizing the University Curriculum, on Feb. 28 and 29. Can you tell us a little bit more about the symposium?

For the symposium, scholars are coming from all over the world, including places like South Africa and Nigeria. They are coming to the U of A to talk about the decolonization of the university curriculum; and what will it mean to truly embrace a decolonial education. It will provide the opportunity to listen to different voices talk about their experiences in the decolonization of university spaces and curriculums. We're so rooted in the European-centric world that it's not going to be easy to change that. And I'm careful not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” There are good things about European scholarship that we need to keep, but we need to also respect the fact that there are other ways of knowing and we've been either marginalizing those people with different epistemologies and methodologies or not paying attention sufficiently to what they're saying or doing.

What do you think the impact of the Black academic excellent cohort hire is on the university? 

We now have these 12 new, tenure-track Black scholars. They represent different faculties and are interested in advancing their subject matter and research, not necessarily all having to do with Black studies. They bring new perspectives to the university and the entire academic field, which will rise as a result of these new people coming in. 

The diversity of perspectives can only make the university richer as an academic space for knowledge and learning. Black students can now see themselves in the positions of the individuals who are in front of them teaching. A former student once said to me, “Professor, you know you are the first Black teacher I've ever had from kindergarten to university.” I asked myself: “How could this be in the twenty-first century in so-called multicultural Canada?”

I've got students telling me how thankful they are that there are more Black faculty members now because they can talk more easily to them about their issues. The mentorship of young Black students is undertaken by a lot of the Black faculty members and one of the beauties of having individuals from different racialized perspectives on staff is they can bring an added element to individuals of different ethnic backgrounds who may not have had that experience before. 

One of your priorities is to champion early-career Black scholars. How are you doing this? 

We try to meet regularly and have relatively frequent meetings with the Black Faculty Collective where we talk about issues of relevance to them. My job is to try to make sure that we capture what the concerns are, and I take those concerns to Verna Yiu, provost so she is made aware of what's going on.

I can offer early-career Black faculty the experience of being a Black faculty member with some success. I help them understand how the faculty evaluation process works so they know how to prepare their yearly faculty evaluation reports and highlight their teaching, research, and service. I can also tell them what to avoid, and what they should and shouldn’t take on. 

It's a wonderful opportunity for me to contribute to the development of scholarship and leadership. We have to find ways to retain them and do whatever we can to make sure that this is an environment that allows them to thrive. After all, as our first university president, H M Tory, once said, the objective of this university is to “lift up the whole people.”

February is Black History Month. What does this mean to you?

For me, it’s symbolic because it's a month that we have set aside to elevate Black scholarship and Black people's lived experiences. We ought to celebrate Black people all year round, limiting it to a month kind of denigrates the whole notion of Black excellence, but at least you pay attention to it for the month.

So I want to use this month to show to the rest of the world and the community in Edmonton what our Black faculty members are doing. Many of them are doing wonderful things in their fields, in engineering, medicine, sociology, agriculture, art, and more. And during this period so many people from the Black community come on campus to celebrate with us.

If you look into the future in 10 years, what do you hope are the impacts being made around anti-Black racism at the U of A? 

Well, the first thing is, I would want to make sure that all Black faculty members are respected equally. For there to be equity and dignity for the work that they're doing, and for them to be acknowledged for work they can do that other members of the community cannot, because they don’t have the same lived experience as a Black person. And I would like to see improvements in pay equity.

I would also like to see someone in the central administration who's Black and reflects the university’s true desire to be equitable, diverse and inclusive. Until that happens we can only say that this is a mantra that we are repeating but we're not seeing it at the upper levels. It has to mean that we are intentionally seeking out people of colour to serve in key positions of authority. I’d like to see people be recognized for what they do, and treated on par with other colleagues that hold similar kinds of positions.

What are you focused on for this year?

Decolonizing the university curriculum is a major plank of what I'll be doing for this year. I plan to continue the Black Talk podcast. It fills a gap in knowledge that exists around the success of the many Black scholars that we interview. I want to have more celebrations of Black excellence.

I want to see more Black people in leadership positions and more nominations for them for major awards. Sometimes the criteria on award notices could be disqualifying for many people. We need to make sure that the wording of the award notices is more inclusive and we need to provide our junior Black faculty with tips on constructing good CVs so that they can be more marketable for higher positions. 

I want to continue to ensure Black faculty have the right mentorship. I feel like I have a responsibility because I was one of the people who benefited from strong mentorship in a system not necessarily favourable to all people. Somehow I was able to navigate my way to reach this level, with the help of white allies, so I will always offer advice to people on how they can navigate their way to higher levels within the university.

Andy Knight, Provost Fellow in Black Excellence and Leadership

About Andy

W. Andy Knight is a professor of political science and the inaugural Provost Fellow, Black Excellence and Leadership, at the University of Alberta. He is former director of the Institute of International Relations at The University of the West Indies and co-founder of the Diplomatic Academy of the Caribbean. Andy has an extensive publication record, including the award-winning book Female Suicide Bombings: A Critical Gendered Approach. He has been co-editor of prestigious journals, such as Global Governance, International Journal and African Security, and has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 2011. Recognized for his influence, he was named by Venture Magazine among Alberta’s top 50 most influential people. He received the Harry Jerome Trailblazer award from the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) of Canada.

Additionally, he served on the Board of Governors of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) from 2007 to 2011. Andy is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy in Toronto and of McLaughlin College at York University. In 2021, he founded the podcast blacktalk.cawas honoured as a Distinguished Professor by the University of Alberta, and held the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in International and Area Studies at Yale University. In 2023, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth appointed Andy as an observer of the Nigerian Presidential Elections and he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal for his contributions to the Province of Alberta. That same year, McMaster University awarded him an LLD honoris causa.