May 1, 2019

Transformative leader of UCalgary internationalization honoured 

Stephen Randall receives Career Achievement Award at International Achievement Awards Celebration

Over the course of his 50-year career, Dr. Stephen Randall, PhD, professor emeritus of history, was the very epitome of an international researcher with his extensive and, at times, risky work in Latin America, and Colombia in particular, during the violent period in the 1980s and ‘90s, when the drug trade threw the country into a state of chaos.

As dean of the former Faculty of Social Sciences between 1994 and 2006, Randall was a true international builder on campus as well, helping to develop internationally focused programs, many of which are still thriving today. Among these are the International Relations, International Indigenous Studies and East Asian Studies programs, as well as the Latin American Research Centre. 

Today the University of Calgary’s International Strategy and mission to become a global intellectual hub is one of our central Eyes High goals and Randall was undeniably a key early figure in setting us on this important track. 

Indeed, as Dr. Pascale Sicotte, PhD, vice-dean of the Faculty of Arts aptly puts it: “The University of Calgary continues to benefit from his transformative approach to internationalization.” 

All of this makes Randall the perfect recipient of the Career Achievement Award, which he received on April 29 at the International Achievement Awards Celebration event.

“I’m tremendously honoured,” said Randall in the days leading up to the ceremony. “I was an international-based researcher throughout my career, so it’s something I believed in, and I suppose I was a pioneer in this respect, among a few others, on campus.

“My motivations were personal in many respects,” Randall adds. “The long-term work I was doing in Latin America working with Latin American colleagues — as well as the work I did with the United Nations in Cambodia and South East Asia in 1993 — made it clear to me that we needed to do more international outreach as a university.”

During his term as dean of the former Faculty of Social Sciences, Randall says he pushed to establish new programs that would encourage internationalization. “These were important initiatives,” he says. “We wanted to expose our students to a broader world and allow them to gain degree credit in doing so.”  

Another area of expertise in which Randall emerged as an academic leader over the course of his career was Canada’s relationship with the United States. His book Ambivalent Allies: The United States and Canada was nominated for a Governor General’s Prize for non-fiction in 1995. He also led a U.S-Canadian government-sponsored research program with partners in the United States and Mexico. 

Looking back on his remarkable career, Randall downplays some of the truly dangerous experiences he lived through in the name of international research. But, when we’re documenting his career, we would be remiss in overlooking his bravery in these circumstances. 

Among them, he recalls narrowly missing a car bomb in Bogota in 1989. Its blast was felt a block away and it killed a number of people so missing it, says Randall, “was lucky timing on my part.” Then there was the night he found himself huddled alone in a dark one-room school in Nicaragua in 1990 with automatic weapon fire going off outside. Or the fraught 1993 elections in Cambodia which he helped organize with the UN, in the face of threats from Khmer Rouge rebel forces who promised to violently disrupt the polls. 

“We had to open one poll for a couple of days and the military set up two heavy machine gun nests in front of it,” says Randall. “This was in an open area and the entire field behind us was land-mined, so there was a great sense of insecurity on the whole. That was tense.” 

But none of these harrowing experiences kept Randall from returning to the areas of his research. His work was too important and he wouldn’t be deterred. 

When asked about the career moments he’s proudest of Randall mentions his Lifetime Public Service Award from the Canadian Council for the Americas in 2012 and his Grand Cross Award of Merit from the Colombian government in 2000. But ultimately, he says it’s his students who have brought him the most pride. 

He speaks of his time working for the Carter Center in Venezuela, where he was partnered with one of his former undergrad students, hearkening back to his time at McGill University in the 1970s. 

“This was about 30 years after I worked with him as an undergrad at McGill and here he was as my peer,” Randall says. “I felt a certain sense of the circle coming complete. When you see your students go on to do great things, that’s always brought me a tremendous sense of pride.”