Inaugural UVic President's Chair

Peter B. Gustavson School of Business

- Carlos Chicas Berti

Simon Pek (Peter B. Gustavson School of Business) is awarded the first University of Victoria President’s Chair. Credit: UVic Photo Services

The first University of Victoria President’s Chair has been awarded to Simon Pek of the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. The President’s Chair is the highest academic honour UVic can bestow on a faculty member, replacing Distinguished Professorships. The new President’s Chairs were established to recognize faculty who have achieved great distinction in research and research-inspired teaching; made substantial contributions to UVic and the wider community; and are capable of championing excellence in research, teaching and community-university engagement. 

Pek’s research seems an intuitive fit for recognition by a President's Chair, at a time in which democracy itself seems to be in crisis and debates around the concept have reignited worldwide. Pek’s research looks into how workplaces can be democratized to give workers more of a voice and what democracy can look like in our governments, educational institutions, businesses and community organizations.

Democracy at work

While businesses might not be the first application that comes to mind when thinking about democracies, Pek draws attention to organizations like labour unions and worker-owned firms that have democracy at their core, but tend to see that very democracy threatened as they grow.

“The nature of work is changing really quickly; it’s becoming more precarious in a lot of ways, with stagnant real wages for many, growing levels of inequality, and the increasing prevalence of ‘gig’ jobs,” Pek says, “And some of the most common forms of representation such as labour unions are in decline in many countries, or facing immense challenges regarding their efficacy,” he adds. “It has become increasingly clear that we have to focus attention on identifying newer and more effective ways of representing workers’ interests in organizations given the changing landscape.”

Pek has long had an interest in learning about various democratic innovations and exploring their relevance to management. “Over the years I realized that elections have come to be seen as the default way of practicing representative democracy, whether in our unions, our community associations, or our governments,” says Pek. Yet alternative methods of selecting leaders exist, including ‘sortition,’ the idea of using random selection to select representatives. Pek’s work delves into this in two papers published in 2019, bridging work from political scientists, sociologists and industrial relations scholars to explore sortition as a way of improving democracy in worker-owned firms and labour unions. 

One of the streams I’m excited to explore as a President’s Chair is to develop a research program in which I work with organizations to experiment with democratic innovations including sortition and deliberative mini-publics like citizens’ assemblies,” Pek adds. Among his top goals?  “I would love to see universities becoming pioneers in democratic innovation.”
Simon Pek, first UVic President's Chair

Inspiring teaching

“The President’s Chair award is the university’s highest internal honour, which celebrates our extraordinary faculty,” says President Jamie Cassels, “I am excited to recognize the amazing achievements of inspiring teachers and researchers like Dr. Simon Pek, who are contributing to a better future for our students and the planet.” 

Pek’s work has also been highlighted for driving forward the goals of the UVic Strategic Framework. In the classroom, Pek strives to create an atmosphere in which students can gain exposure to knowledge about a wide range of challenges including climate change, inequality and precarious work. He sees it as crucial not to stop there, but to equip his students with tools and concepts they can use in their jobs to help tackle these challenges. 

If we’re going to be managers, or business leaders, or members of society, we have to be aware of the issues we’re going to face and equip ourselves with conceptual and practical tools that we can use to solve these pressing issues in our professional careers.”
Simon Pek, first UVic President's Chair

Pek enjoys learning and applying new dynamic learning practices such as deliberative forums and live simulations, and seeks to integrate his research and teaching when possible. “In a perfect world, research, teaching, and community engagement would all synergize,” he says, citing an example of how he incorporated his interest in cultural sustainability into one of his courses, with students’ questions ultimately giving him insights into important areas for future research he is now pursuing. 


In this story

Keywords: award, business, research, teaching

People: Simon Pek

Publication: The Ring

Related stories