The fate of l’Université de l’Ontario francais has occasioned an outpouring of media commentary and public debate, including frequent references to the University of Ottawa, Canada’s only fully bilingual university.
To be clear, from the outset we have supported the establishment of the Université de l’Ontario Français. We worked closely with its proponents to ensure its realization, acting as mentors when asked for advice. We also worked with the proposed Francophone university on the planning of French-language programs of particular relevance for the Franco-Ontarian community in the Toronto and south-central Ontario regions. We affirm that there remains a place in Ontario for a university established by and for Francophones, and that Franco-Ontarians can count on the University of Ottawa to continue working to bring it to life. For more French-language and bilingual universities and colleges can only better serve the interests of Francophones.
In the meantime the University of Ottawa will continue to serve as a vital cultural and professional institution for the Franco-Ontarian community. Our alumni are the health care professionals (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, etc.) caring for patients in French in Ottawa and across the province; they are the lawyers guiding Francophone citizens through the legal system; they are the educators who teach in our French-language schools and French immersion programs throughout Ontario; they are our actors, our artists and our musicians creating our vibrant culture; and they are the public servants working to establish and maintain provincial and federal public policy.
And yet we need to do more. Ontario needs more French-speaking engineers, chemists and mathematicians. Indeed, several months ago, we proposed increasing our program offerings, and joined forces with the Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) and other French-language and bilingual postsecondary institutions to call for a broader selection of course offerings. We deeply believe in this mission, whose importance goes beyond the interests of any one institution. The Francophone minority in Ontario deserves access to the highest quality education, wherever its members may be. Through it, they must be able to find the jobs and acquire the skills that will benefit their community. They must also have the opportunity to participate in the new economy, in arts and culture and in knowledge-based industries.
Under Ontario’s French Language Services Act the University of Ottawa is required to offer all of its more than 350 academic programs in French, and currently over 13,000 students study in French at our university. It is true that they are outnumbered by those who study in English, but all services on campus are offered in both languages. Moreover, the majority of our staff, senior management and Board of Governors are proud Francophones and every permanent professor must have a basic knowledge of French. We do acknowledge, however, that the reality of a bilingual campus is complex and that there is room for improvement. We are committed to always striving to do better.
Ranked among the 200 top universities in the world, the University of Ottawa is also a place where the highest calibre research is conducted by and for the world’s Francophones. We have five research chairs dealing with various dimensions of the French-speaking world, through which our experts offer reflection and analysis. Well beyond Quebec, the University of Ottawa plays a leading educational role in French-speaking Canada, including in health care and law. In short, our university is a vital catalyst and contributor in helping Francophone communities in Ontario and across Canada to flourish.
The current debate on minority rights in Ontario and elsewhere is healthy, yet it is also fraught. For rights are fragile by definition; to maintain them we must maintain the institutions that embody them. The fight for the rights of a minority requires constant, tireless effort on each of its members’ part. Today, the University of Ottawa community continues to fight for the rights of the Francophone minority in Ontario and across Canada. We have done so for over 150 years and we will do so as long as necessary.
President and Vice-Chancellor