Campus Life

University of Lethbridge appoints first ever Evelyn Hamilton Chair in Liberal Education

The School of Liberal Education has appointed Miranda Leibel as the first Evelyn Hamilton Chair in Liberal Education at the University of Lethbridge.

“We are so pleased to announce that Miranda will become the School of Liberal Education’s inaugural Evelyn Hamilton Chair,” says Dr. Shelly Wismath, dean of the school. “Her work on open and transparent government and social policy fits well with research and teaching in the School of Liberal Education and with the aims of the Evelyn Hamilton Chair.”

Photo by Sierra Duffey

The Chair was established a year ago following a $2-million donation from Art and Mary Jane Crooks. The position was named in honour of Art’s mother, Evelyn Hamilton, who had an expansive and inquisitive worldview and demonstrated lifelong learning.

“I’m excited to join the School of Liberal Education,” says Leibel. “There are lots of folks from all kinds of disciplines working together here and that’s really what energizes me — being around people who are doing completely different things and having the opportunity to learn from them and their work. I think there’s a lot of possibilities for collaboration.”

Leibel was born and raised in Edmonton and obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Alberta. She began her studies in the political science department with a desire to focus on international relations.

“I took lots of different classes and just found that, actually, that wasn’t what I was most interested in,” says Leibel. “I started taking more classes on Canadian politics, specifically around social justice, feminism, race and settler colonialism.”

When it came time to pursue a doctoral degree, Leibel moved to Ottawa and attended Carleton University. She defended her PhD thesis earlier this summer through Carleton’s Institute of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, after focusing her research on review processes for the deaths of children in care across Canada.

“Very quickly, I realized a lot of these inquiries were about Indigenous children in care,” she says. “Of course, that fits into a broader context where Indigenous children are vastly over-represented in child welfare systems across Canada. I wanted to think about why that was and how the conversations that come out of the review process could potentially bring the issue to a wider audience and increase awareness, but also have potential concerns when graphic details are shared and become a subject for public consumption.”

Leibel says important policy changes can result, but more often than not, government officials and the media are imagining their audience to be white settler Canadians.

“There are a lot of Indigenous-led organizations and activists doing really phenomenal work,” she says. “Ensuring that those are the voices given the space to take on those more prominent roles and say what the solutions would be is the right thing to do.”

The goal of the Evelyn Hamilton Chair is to instill among students the liberal education goals of rigorous inquiry, the pursuit of knowledge and critical thought grounded in evidence-based reasoning. The Chair will advance a culture that educates and promotes discussion among students, the public and decision makers on how to think clearly and carefully about issues and assess evidence and impact.

In keeping with that goal, Leibel will conduct research into data literacy and open government. Open government is a recent phenomenon that has gained traction with the ability to digitize records. The Canadian government has an open government portal which allows anyone to access data and digital records such as government contracts, maps and surveys.

“On one hand, it’s really exciting to be able to go in and see how the government is making decisions and how it’s reaching conclusions about different things,” she says. “But, on the other hand, when you go in and look at the statistics, unless you know a lot about statistics and have that data literacy, it’s not actually particularly helpful for a lot of people.”

Leibel’s interest is in how open government information could be used to address social justice demands and movements, such as advancing reconciliation and feminist goals. She also hopes to get students involved in the research. In addition to research, Leibel will begin her teaching duties next semester.