By Mike Foster
For University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont, a university education is more relevant than ever in today’s world, to instill critical thinking and fight “stupid ideas.”
In a speech at fall convocation to mark his official installation as uOttawa’s 30th president, he said that “one of the most original, needed and value-added purposes of university remains, more than ever, to nurture science and society with deep, risky, critical and original thinking and to instill in students a high level of intellectual curiosity.”
Frémont acknowledged that universities had to rethink their role as “knowledge brokers.” Despite challenges from new technologies, such as massive online open courses, universities still have a crucial role to play in providing students with the tools to make a significant contribution to society.
“In our so-called liberal democracies, it has become increasingly popular to depart from evidence-based facts and science and to give equal voice to prejudicial and ill-informed ideas, and to shy away from different points of view,” he said.
“Universities must fight against this new obscurantism, and against what I would call the mainstreaming of stupid ideas.”
International research focus
Frémont said uOttawa would examine its research ambitions and systemize the way it establishes international research partnerships.
“Research is becoming rapidly internationalized already; it would be fitting to also systemize our approach to establish global research consortia.”
He added: “The University must be one of the elite research universities with an international character. The University of Ottawa community will soon be asked to take part in an effort to determine our ambitions in this area.”
Francophonie and bilingualism
On the francophonie and bilingualism, Frémont said the University of Ottawa was a leader and a “dynamic intermediary between international Francophone movements and their Ontarian and Canadian counterparts.” He said he was delighted to learn that Ontario was on track to become a member of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie.
“The University of Ottawa will continue to develop its expertise in bilingualism by promoting bilingualism as a universal way for individuals to live and grow, from a scientific and neurological standpoint as well as a sociological one,” he said.
Continuing work against sexual violence
Frémont said universities should be a model of diversity. In this spirit, he will set up a new committee to examine ways to promote diversity at the University of Ottawa. He acknowledged that there was more work to be done to encourage respectful conduct.
“Diversity means equality and, let me be clear, the absence of discrimination and sexual violence,” Frémont said.
He added: “On this issue, a great deal of time has been spent these past few years at uOttawa working to put in place policies and processes to better prevent sexual violence on our campus. The change of culture will probably take time, as recent events remind us. We will relentlessly keep working on this.”
Read Jacques Frémont’s complete speech.