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Photo courtesy of Micheline Laflamme

Michaelle Jean wants to be a chancellor that’s there for students

ON NOV. 7, the University of Ottawa announced Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada, would be the university’s new chancellor. She replaces Huguette Labelle, who held the position for almost 18 years.

A chancellor’s job description

The University of Ottawa’s chancellor is the honourary head of the university who presides over convocation ceremonies and has honorary seats on both the Board of Governors (BOG) and the Uni- versity Senate.
“She has a ceremonial role, but is also the moral leader of the university community,” said Allan Rock, president of the U of O in an interview with the Fulcrum. “We’ve been very fortunate over the years to have very distinguished people, including Pauline Vanier and, of course, Huguette Labelle.”

The chancellor also acts as a U of O representative at events on and outside campus, particularly when welcoming dignitaries.

The selection committee for the position is made up of the BOG chair, the president of the university, four members from the senate and the BOG, and one alumnus.
“One of the things the committee did was examine the question, ‘What are the qualities that a chancellor should bring to the job?’,” said Rock. “They identified and articulated those qualities, and then they assessed a number of potential candidates.”

The qualities required to fulfill the role of chancellor include bilingualism, ability to represent and promote the university, warm and inviting personality, and willingness to support the quality of the university experience. The term of a chancellor is four years, with the possi- bility of renewal.

The lady in charge

Huguette Labelle, current chancellor of the university, will pass her position on to Jean on Feb. 1, 2012.

“[Labelle] has been truly spectacular and has lent to the role a dimension that has been quite remarkable,” said Rock. “She went to the [U of O] where she studied nursing, and then [took] a doctorate in education. She knows the university very well.”

“What she has done over these last 17 years is make the university one of her real priorities,” Rock added. “She has spent an awful lot of time with us. She is always available for advice and to per- form leadership roles.”

Labelle spent most of her career in public service as a deputy minister of Transport Canada, and held leadership roles in international organizations such as the Canadian International Development Agency, Transparency International, and the Millennium Bureau of Canada.

“She has been a remarkable asset to the university,” said Rock. “She has served with enormous energy and commitment. We are going to miss her a great deal. We all owe her a debt of gratitude.”

Rise to power

Jean was born in Haiti and immigrated to Canada in 1968. She studied Italian and Hispanic languages and literature at the University of Montreal and later worked as a journalist and anchor for the CBC.

She served as Governor General of Canada from 2005–10 and United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Special Envoy to Haiti, operating in an office out of the U of O. After a period of reflection, she accepted the position of chancellor offered by the university.

“I was quite surprised because the proposition came very early,” said Jean. “I had a conversation with Mr. Rock about being chancellor at the U of O, and I was very honoured, actually. I wanted to make sure I was the perfect [candidate].”

The selection committee believed her experience as Governor General and current role serving as UNESCO’s Special Envoy to Haiti gives her the skills needed for the role. “When it came to Michaelle Jean, the [selection committee] found that she really embodied the [requirements] and was the most compelling example of the very qualities we were looking for in a university chancellor,” said Rock.

Jean accepted the role just after Rock unveiled the Vision 2020 strategy for the U of O. She mentioned she is excited to take the position under the new vision.

“I think that we are headed in the right direction,” said Jean. “Destination 2020 is a strategy that I support very much. I find it very modern. I think that it is the course to what nation building is about, what the country needs, and also to further a greater identity in a world that has become so interconnected.”

Rock believes Jean’s experience will create opportunities for the university and attract attention to the institution on a global stage, while still keeping stu- dents as the main focus.

“She has a remarkable quality of warmth and openness,” said Rock. “She just has a terrific relationship with the students that I’ve seen as I’ve watched her meet with them and they respond to her in a very warm way.”

“I think it is going to be a great asset to have Michaëlle Jean on the campus deal- ing with students and also helping assist me push forward with our important mission,” he said.

Jean said she is ready to serve the university and students in her new role.

“It is wonderful for me to work every day here,” said Jean. “I am on this cam- pus more and more and it is wonderful to work with the students’ energy. I want to be a chancellor who is there for them and who is with them.

“When you stand here in the midst of young people, it is [great] to see how much they can achieve,” she added. “We have leaders here, not just for our future, not just for tomorrow, but here and now.”

—Christopher Radojewski