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IN MEMORIAM: Mark Grosjean

Monday, April 2, 2018 - 10:00am


Please send us your fond memories of Mark here or by email to polimedia@ucalgary.ca to be presented as a book to his family

Mark Grosjean entered the University of Calgary in the Faculty of Arts in Fall 2013. By Fall of 2014 he had chosen Political Science as his Major and when he convocated in November 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), Mark was one of our Department’s—and indeed the Faculty’s—most accomplished and promising students. He died in a downhill ski accident on March 12, 2018.

Many of us had the opportunity to work closely with Mark, and everyone who taught him in the Department—which must have been virtually everyone—knew him as student of simply outstanding abilities, of deep and daring engagement, and as a wonderfully fun and lively conversationalist. In the classroom, Mark modelled for us the very nature of academic inquiry and philosophic curiosity.

Mark had an academic record of near perfection—if one may dare count as an imperfection three early ‘A-’s in an otherwise unbroken run of ‘A’ and ‘A+’ grades year-after-year. Only one of those ‘A-’ grades was in a Political Science course, and that was the Introduction to the History of Political Thought. Yet, instead of turning away from the subject, Mark rose to the challenge and embraced his own emerging interest, making political philosophy his focus within the Department and Philosophy his Minor.

In Fall 2015, Mark studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic, where his academic interests became gripped by the unfolding migrant crisis in Europe and the theoretical problems this posed for thinking through the three-fold demands of individual dignity, national self-determination, and the conditions for autonomy. It was there in Prague that he began to flex his remarkable aptitude—a genius really—for combining real-world empirical investigation with extremely sophisticated and nuanced engagement with the theoretical underpinnings of “open-borders” arguments within his emerging interest in the political philosophy of John Rawls and his seminal work, A Theory of Justice.

From these seeds planted across the ocean, Mark returned to Calgary and, enticed into the Honours program by Dr. Pablo Policzer, in the Fall and Winter of 2016/17 began working on his Honours Thesis. While the details may seem quite technical, there was a keen sense that we were watching the beginnings of an intellectual trajectory that was sure to take Mark into graduate school and an academic career. With some students, one simply knows that they will be colleagues in the profession one day. Mark was one such student.

In his Honours Thesis, written under the Supervision of Dr. Joshua Goldstein with Dr. Antonio Franceschet as the second reader, Mark took three elements key to Rawls’ thought—the veil of ignorance, the moral powers, and overlapping consensus—as a way to frame his project. With concision and precision, he showed the implicit tension between them and asked, crucially: How are these competing and necessary directions of a Rawlsian ethics of immigration to be reconciled? Not content to rest here, he developed an argument drawing on the under-appreciated idea of overlapping consensus to explore the boundary between just and unjust border restrictions. Mark’s conclusion was that all individuals can come to affirm the right to asylum, but beyond this, there can be no more robustly welcoming ethics of immigration that justice itself requires. His position forged a bridge between the open- and closed-borders arguments and marked out new and theoretically interesting territory within Rawlsian debates over the ethics of immigration. His Honours Thesis was awarded an ‘A+’, and it received nomination for the Department’s Best Honours Thesis paper prize for 2016–17.

This same year his paper for Dr. Policzer’s Honours Seminar was also nominated for the separate Department’s Best Senior Undergraduate Paper for its sophisticated, confident, incisive, and at times brilliant reading of Benedict Anderson and James Scott on the way in which, with the advent of market capitalism, political identities have become more horizontal than vertical. It was the best paper in the class.

Mark had already begun to take his ideas before a wider audience. Although still completing his undergraduate degree, just this past year he presented at two academic conferences—the Philosophy, History, and Politics Undergraduate Conference at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, and the Graduate Strategic Studies Conference here at the University of Calgary. The power of those ideas was shown in an event of immense pride for us all, his first peer-reviewed publication “Can Immigration Be Truly Liberal? Rawlsian Principles on the Cultural Frontier”, in To Be Decided* Journal of Interdisciplinary Theory. Mark had just submitted, and had approved, his revisions to the piece but will not be here to see its publication in Spring 2018.

Mark’s academic talents extended beyond political philosophy. He was an excellent empirical and archival researcher, a fact quickly recognized by Dr. Jack Lucas who hired him as a Research Assistant immediately. Mark would often sit side-by-side with Dr. Lucas at the microfilm machines in Taylor Library, scrolling through old newspapers, sharing an occasional laugh about strange headlines and advertisements they would encounter. Mark loved music, and would pair an album to correspond to the year he was going through in the newspaper. His choice for 1986 was New Order’s Brotherhood.

Mark was not just an appreciator of music, he was an accomplished musician himself, mainly playing the double bass. Mark had eight live performances under his belt when he was an undergraduate, playing with everyone from Scott MacKay, The Frontiers, Sealegs, to the University of Calgary Jazz Orchestra with Michael Philip Mossman. His musical legacy lives on with credits on three albums, as a studio musician on Heather Adam’s Since I’ve Been Away and Robbie Bankes’ Foothills. He was a band member of the The Frontiers and appeared on their album Enough is Enough as well as the music video of the same name—Google it, and you’ll find it.

The future was Mark’s. After graduating in November of last year, Mark headed off to Dijon, France to perfect his French language skills while also applying to the top graduate programs in Canada, with an intellectually rich project that built on his love of political philosophy and real-world politics and public policy. This was an exceptionally enlivening time—as it is for all students—standing on the cusp of something new, when paths to a new life are opening up. Mark had just begun to receive acceptances and with impressive funding offers: entrance to the University of Toronto’s direct-entry PhD program, entrance to the University of British Columbia with a Canadian Graduate Scholarship—Master’s award (the highest national award available to MA students), and so on. Our memories of Mark at this time—such a short time ago!—was of his usual mix of quiet understatement, seeking out of advice from those that had travelled this path before, and, underneath it all, a deep excitement to take these next steps into what was sure to be a brilliant academic career.

As everyone who has worked with him as his supervisor, course instructor, or classmate knows, Mark was an exceptionally friendly and professional person who has a natural impulse to reach out and engage. He was a strong and thoughtful advocate for his projects and arguments and insights; he had sure grip on what interested him and what he wanted to pursue. We have all had marvellously spirited discussions about his work—sometimes disagreeing, or pushing him to clarify some grand claim, or develop some much more modest one. Yet, all of this was conducted in the true spirit of academic engagement and exploration—woven through with a genuine appreciation for a good, shared laugh and funny joke—that made it a joy to be in his orbit. At the same time, Mark was very keen to hear counter-arguments and suggestions for improvement, and to provide drafts (so many drafts!) of his work for comment and criticism. Most importantly, he was willing to think about, engage, and incorporate that advice. As a result, he produced really top-notch work that was decisively his own while still benefiting from the experience and observations of others. Mark was simply a delight.

We have had to say Good Bye to Mark far too soon. His death is a genuine and deep sorrow for us, here in the Department. Yet, it is with happiness that we recall him to our memory. It was a true privilege for us to have accompanied Mark in his academic journey as far as we did.

Our sincerest condolences go out to his parents, Cheri and Adam, and his sister, Heidi, and Mark’s partner Heather Adam.

Please also see his family public tribute: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/calgaryherald/obituary.aspx?n=mark-grosjean&pid=188470405&fhid=18552