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Back in hallowed halls: Experiences of a Public Servant-in-Residence

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Jean-Pierre Morin, Adjunct Research Professor and Public Servant-in-Residence, Department of History, Carleton University

Since the age of 12, I have had only one career goal: to be an historian working in the federal government. Yes, this is a rather strange life goal for a kid, but everyone has their dreams. I set out to study history and after completing my graduate studies, I joined the federal department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (now Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) in 1999. Throughout my studies, I never had any intention of working in academia – I wanted to be a career public servant and I was very happy being the “departmental historian” at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

In the winter of 2014, however, a stray hyperlink at the bottom of a government of Canada web page got me thinking about something else. After 15 years with the “Feds,” I was looking for new opportunities as an historian and public servant. That stray link — a link to the Canada School of the Public Service’s Public Servant-in-Residence Program — was about to bring me back to a world that I knew, but never thought was the right fit for me.

The Public Servant-in-Residence program places public servants in universities to conduct research, teach, share information and practices, and create links between academia and the public service. Participation in the program requires approval from Deputy Ministers, and university administrators and departments. Ranging from six months to two years, the residency allows participants to interact with faculty members and students, undertake research and collaborate in projects. Upon returning to their home departments, participants can bring new approaches, findings and skills acquired back into the public service.

For my residency, I was hosted by the History Department at Carleton University in Ottawa thanks to the support of Drs. Dominique Marshall, David orugout Dean and John Walsh. In their opinion, I brought a unique public practitioner perspective to the discussion of the role and impact of history beyond academia. For me, the expectations were two-fold: first, that I would bring my experiences as an historian into the classroom through teaching, but also to show that the public service should be a consideration for employment for students of history.

During my time at Carleton, I’ve taught classes on the use of historical thinking in policy-making, on the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada as well as on Canadian political history. I’ve also had the opportunity to participate in conferences in Canada and the United States, representing both Carleton and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Most importantly, I’ve met hundreds of students from all walks of life and been able to discuss and debate the use of history, the impacts of government policy on Indigenous peoples, and even helped a few of them find jobs in the public service of Canada.

Working for the federal government means serving the Canadian public. The Public Servant-in-Residence Program helps us reach one segment in which public servants rarely interact. Public servants have unique perspectives and experiences that can enrich the learning opportunities of students and faculty members. Just as important as what a public servant can bring to the classroom, however, is what we can bring back into government: new perspectives, new connections and new approaches.

Hopefully, my time at Carleton has enriched the classroom, because I know that it will enrich the remainder of my career as a public servant.

For more information on the Public Servant-in-Residence Program, please see the Canada School of the Public Service website.

Jean-Pierre Morin is the departmental historian at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and the Public Servant-in-Residence in the Department of History at Carleton University since September 2015.

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