He’s smart. He’s Greek. He’s an educator extraordinaire. And he’s advocating for a full-on focus for Atlantic Canada’s governments, businesses and non-profits to spearhead the nurturing of innovation across all realms of human enterprise.
For the last 50-plus years, Constantine Passaris, the man known for his winning smile and equally delightful personality, has been teaching economics at the University of New Brunswick.
Over that time, the 76-year-old Passaris estimates he has helped shape the minds of as many as 4,000 students.
“Teaching is something I enjoy doing and is the reason why I am still doing it,” Passaris told New Canadian Media. “It’s a very good feeling that you have impacted and have empowered young women and men to achieve success in their lives.”
Over his five decades on the job, Passaris, born in Alexandria, Greece, has been recognized with the Allan P. Stuart Award for excellence in teaching and has been selected twice by Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities as a popular professor.
“I believe my classroom is not just about you, it’s about how you are being received and accepted as [an] instructor,” said Passaris, who was recently presented with an InnovateNB Award by the province and a Community Recognition Award by the City of Fredericton. “The feedback I am getting is they enjoy having me in class.”
The relationship between the teacher and his students has not gone unnoticed by Passaris’s peers at the university.
Nicole O’Byrne, an associate professor of law, said the affable Greek immigrant, not only serves as a role model and a mentor to countless people, he has inspired generations of UNB students by cultivating their interest in world affairs.
“He may teach economics as a subject but he is really teaching his students how to critically engage with the world around them,” O’Byrne said. “His service outside of the university is an exemplar of how relevant education can be to changing the lives of people for the better.”
Passaris, listed in the International Who’s Who in Education, came to Canada in 1968 as an international student, and chose Fredericton as his home four years later. The decision to stay in the capital city coincided with his appointment as a professor of economics.
Over that time, Passaris has earned a reputation as a professor with exceptional teaching abilities, Wilfred Langmaid with UNB’s Student Affairs and Services, said.
“Rather than do the ‘same old, same old’ as a professor past normal retirement age, he has embraced opportunities to bring experiential learning into his courses,” Langmaid said. “His first lecture in introductory economics courses, conducted outdoors in the quad, is the stuff of legend, as is his infectious smile.”
Passaris believes that innovation is the most powerful driver of the global economy, and he’s a passionate believer in innovation as a “fundamental catalyst for economic success and collective well-being in today’s world,” he wrote recently.
“The Atlantic Region must align its economic governance, private sector initiatives, and non-profit organizations toward a dedicated focus on elevating the role of innovation. Atlantic Canada’s economic governance should lead the charge in nurturing innovation across all aspects of human endeavour.”
Passaris, who has maintained close ties with his homeland and was listed in the inaugural edition of Who’s Who in Greece 2020, became a Canadian citizen at a ceremony held in the Fredericton Playhouse in the summer of 1973. According to Statistics Canada, he is now one of 950 Greek Canadians living in New Brunswick.
Passaris’s biography, meanwhile, reveals a larger-than-life persona in which his accomplishments and feats place him on level with some of the most iconic and influential people in Canada. He has served as a member of the Economic Council of Canada, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, chair of the board of directors of the Atlantic Human Rights Centre at St. Thomas University, chair of the New Brunswick Advisory Board on Population Growth, a member of the New Brunswick Immigration Advisory Committee and an advisor to the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.
Passaris, whose scholarly articles have been published in a variety of publications, is also the founding president of both the New Brunswick Multicultural Council and the Atlantic Multicultural Council, a former president of the Multicultural Association of Fredericton, a member of the NB Commission on Electoral Reform, and the first chair of the New Brunswick Ministerial Advisory Committee on Multiculturalism.
Such work is noticed by society at large, said Brian Macdonald, CEO and founder of Utimus.org, an organization that assists newcomers to Canada.
“The contributions made by Constantine Passaris to the betterment of immigrants in our province are numerous and enduring,” Macdonald said. “From his role in founding the New Brunswick Multicultural Council to his work as Chair of the NB Human Rights Commission, Constantine has worked tirelessly to give a voice to the concerns of newcomers and provide them with the supports they need for success.”
In addition to Pissaris’s efforts to strengthen the Canadian mosaic, he has received numerous honours and awards, which include, among other things, the Government of Canada Citation for Citizenship, the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada in 1992, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his exceptional contribution to New Brunswick and Canada.
Passaris is also a recipient of the Order of New Brunswick which, according to his biography, was presented to him “for his visionary work as a fervent champion and strong advocate for multiculturalism, immigration, inclusion, and human rights.”
It marked the first time the award was ever presented to a Greek Canadian.
“I think the recognition of the compilation of the awards have reflected success, achievement or contribution at a high standard and a high impact,” Passaris said. “That, in combination [with everything else], makes me pleased that my work has been fruitful.”
Passaris, who has overcome incidents of discrimination in his own life, said one of the biggest challenges facing immigrants these days is opportunities.
“People are starting to accept diversity,” Passaris said, “but there is still work to do when it comes to providing everyone with the same opportunities. There is a sense that immigrants need to pay their dues before they have their full extent of rewards that longer-standing Canadians have. We are working on that; this is the new frontier.”
As time progresses, Passaris said he will continue to monitor the immigration picture and do what he loves the most – teach.
“Retirement for me right now is doing the things that I love and I am passionate about, which I am doing right now. I hope to continue until the good Lord summons me to his good care.”
Story and photos produced in partnership with New Canadian Media and SaltWire.
Michael Staples is a retired daily newspaper reporter from New Brunswick with more than 30 years experience. He has travelled extensively with Canada’s military and has reported from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia during the Balkans War and from Haiti in 2004 following a three-week bloody rebellion that saw then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide flee the country. He has also written extensively about Canada's involvement in the Afghanistan War. Michael has considerable experience covering crime, justice and immigration issues. In 1999 he was the lead journalist reporting on the airlift of hundreds of refugees from Kosovo to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. He has been nominated twice for Atlantic Journalism Awards.