University of Toronto

Innis Alumni & Friends

Philip N. Howard

Class of 1993 – Innis

Professor, author, and alumnus, Philip N. Howard’s research focuses on the impact of digital media on the political landscape. He is currently a Fellow at Columbia University, an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University, and a Professor at the University of Washington. He is also the founding Professor at the new School of Public Policy at Central European University. His most recent book, Pax Technica: How the Internet of Things May Set Us Free or Lock Us Up, can be found here.


What were your programs of study while at U of T (i.e., minors, majors, specialist)?

For the first few years, psychology was my declared interest. But by third-year I was in love with political science and international relations. By fourth year the registrar pointed out that I hadn’t actually taken a psych course and really did need to change my major.

In a few words, please outline your career path. What inspired you to pursue your current career?

The answer is not what but who. I got involved with student politics in my first few years as an undergraduate and by fourth-year figured out that I wanted to be an academic. This was because of Abe Rotstein, a scholar and intellectual who at the time was the only cross appointment in political science and economics. He was an old school professor of political economy and economic history. He taught a course on Luther, Marx and Hegel that connected big ideas and made me hungry for more. He also introduced me to the ideas of Harold Innis.

How did you become interested in the impact of digital media on political life? Why is this an important field of study?

I was working for Prof. Ted Homer Dixon at University College, doing research on the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. We were studying the impact of environmental degradation on social structure, but also found that community leaders were using the Internet in surprising ways to activate international support. At the time nobody was treating the Internet as a social phenomenon, so once I got to graduate school I looked for ways to make a mark in this new domain of inquiry.

What is your role as the founding Professor at the new School of Public Policy at Central European University? How did you become involved?

In 2013, I moved to Budapest to start a new School of Public Policy designed to educate and serve aspiring young public servants from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I became involved because it was an exciting project to provide training and open up new career opportunities for people who want to go into public service. We designed a curriculum from scratch, hired a dozen faculty, and in fall 2015 will admit our third cohort of students.

While attending UofT, which, if any, extra-curricular activities were you involved with outside of the classroom (e.g., clubs, teams, volunteerism, on-campus employment)?

I got involved with student politics, and helped out a lot with Innis student orientation. Student politics was pretty all consuming at first, but by third and fourth year I moved on to enjoying higher level undergrad classes, thinking about what to do after graduation, and getting to know the city beyond the campus.

Did you participate in any “experiential learning” opportunities as a student (e.g., fieldwork, international experience, internships)?

I didn’t do experiential learning but I got a lot out of some specialized 400-level classes that were creative syllabi, offered in small seminars, and on the topics that were passionate to the teachers. I did a class on Latin American politics co-taught by a political science faculty member and a former government minister of Brazil. I took a small seminar on environmental degradation and social movements, as well as Rotstein’s course. These 400 level seminars were experiential!

What is your favourite memory from your time spent at Innis College?

I loved the college community, which was made up of month-long euchre games, pub nights, residences that were safe and tolerant, and a college governance system that took student opinions seriously.

Do you have any advice you would like to share with current Innis students?

The social and cultural capital you get out of undergrad is part of the whole point of going to a university like the University of Toronto. Innis is a community you can easily live in, and one that will give you life-long relationships. So don’t just treat it like a residence or administrative unit, enjoy the community.

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