Cameron Muir will be receiving the Copland Prize in Humanities at the USask Spring Convocation celebration. (Photo by Kristen McEwen)
Cameron Muir will be receiving the Copland Prize in Humanities at the USask Spring Convocation celebration. (Photo by Kristen McEwen)

Retired lawyer, USask student receives Copland Prize in Humanities

Cameron Muir will be receiving his fourth degree from USask at Spring Convocation.

By Kristen McEwen

When Cameron Muir (LLB’86, BA’11, MFA’20) receives his history degree on Tuesday, June 4, it will not be the first time that he has crossed the stage.

Muir will be receiving a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in History degree at University of Saskatchewan (USask) Spring Convocation. He will also be awarded the Copland Prize in Humanities, which recognizes the most distinguished graduate in the humanities in the College of Arts and Science.

As an older student, and a retired lawyer, Muir described what it meant to be a “good scholar.” To him, it means doing twice as much research than what is required, and then narrowing in on an argument guided by evidence.

“Older students have a bunch of entrenched ideas, right?” he said. “The biggest challenge was coming (to classes) with my lawyer’s mindset.

“To be a good lawyer, you have to subscribe to the adversarial method, you have to argue a position as much as possible, regardless of if it’s right or wrong. Well, that doesn’t make for good scholarship.”

Muir’s history degree will be the fourth degree that he has earned at USask. His post-secondary education journey started when he was finishing high school in 1981—discussing career possibilities with his father.

“I was talking with my dad about going into drama, but I was also thinking about maybe law school,” Muir said. “Dad says, ‘Well, Cameron, maybe just get that law degree first, right? And after that you can decide what you want, but you’ll always have a law degree to fall back on.’”

He received his first degree—Bachelor of Laws from the USask College of Law in 1986.

As Muir said, one thing followed another and soon he found himself finding employment in law, then starting a family with his wife, and needing to support his family.

“All those other academic goals go by the wayside,” he added.

When the company he worked for was sold, Muir knew it was his chance to go back to university.

He moved his family – including his wife and their two sons – to Saskatoon to be closer to campus to start his next degree; English.

When he completed his English degree in 2011, he decided to try drama, after having discussed it with his father decades earlier.

While he enjoyed two years of the drama program (performing once with Greystone Theatre), Muir found it required more movement on stage than he could accommodate. He has a bone condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, which limits his mobility.

Instead, he pivoted towards obtaining his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 2020. His thesis resulted in a collection of short stories, entitled Broken Windows, which explores the idea that “breakings, or frailties,” can cause a person to “look out into the world to see possibilities.”

As he finished his MFA, Muir learned a bit more about history courses offered at USask. He found that a history degree would tie together what he found interesting in his other degrees.

“History has always been there as a minor. My English degree, my years in the drama department, my MFA degree, all had history studies woven in or on the periphery. It’s as if my years here have been one long slalom course with this history degree at the finish line.”

While he started his history degree, classes at USask were held completely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the content of his history classes was engaging, accessing the courses proved to be challenging.

With osteogenesis imperfecta comes hearing loss. Muir is deaf and has cochlear implants to help with the condition.

“During COVID, people were masking. I didn’t realize how much I had been lip reading,” he said. “When everyone had to go home and moved everything online, sometimes students didn’t turn their cameras on.”

Muir found that without cameras turned on, he could not read lips to process what was being said. When classes resumed in person, people returned with masks, which muffled people’s voices.

“I had all these interesting things I wanted to say, but I also wanted to hear more of what my colleagues were saying,” he said. “That being said, when I did mention my disability, my fellow students and my professors were so respectful.”

When it came to class discussions, people who were not immunocompromised would remove masks when they were speaking and put them back on when they were finished, or when someone else was talking.

“It was a challenge, but one that we could overcome.”

As a history student, Muir took the opportunity to take some study abroad courses in Rome. While there was plenty of walking up and down the hills in the ancient city, Muir did not mind.

“I think that almost every history student should do at least one study abroad class, or some type of field class to get the whole proper context,” he said.

“Studying the humanities, it’s a study of culture, right?” he added. “That culture and society is moving in the landscape. You've got buildings, rivers, hills, and that especially shows up in Rome.

“The dry page you might be reading might mean one thing when you’re back here in Saskatoon, but it means an entirely different thing when you’re in Rome.”

As convocation approaches, Muir is looking forward to celebrating with his family. A few years ago, all four of his family members were at USask taking classes at the same time. His wife was taking courses, and his sons were going to university for the first time.

When Muir began university, he admits he wasn’t a good first-time student. While his marks were good enough to get into law school, he felt that he did not apply himself and missed classes.

“I didn’t want (my sons) to feel bad that dad was keening out and getting these great marks,” he said. “I wanted them to realize that it’s a process, right?

“Becoming a scholar is a process.”

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