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U of O President Designate Jacques Fremont (left) poses with current president Allan Rock (right). Photo: Jaclyn McRae-Sadik.

President-designate talks bilingualism, rape culture and tuition hikes

Jacques Frémont, the successor to president and vice-chancellor Allan Rock, was formally introduced at a press conference at the University of Ottawa’s Advanced Research Complex on Dec. 4.

“The University of Ottawa is renowned in Ontario, throughout Canada and around the world for its excellence in teaching and research and I look forward to joining such a powerhouse of knowledge,” said Frémont in a press release.

Frémont is a lawyer, as well as professor emeritus at the University of Montreal and president of the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights commission.

The bilingual press conference opened with Board of Governors chair Robert Giroux addressing the crowd, followed by Rock, and finally Frémont, after which a question period was opened. Questions covered everything from bilingualism, sexual assault scandals at the university, and tuition hikes.

As Rock finished his speech and introduced Frémont, he said, “today we’re announcing the appointment of Jacques, not the retirement of Rock.” Rock said that, according to his contract, he will be teaching in the university’s Faculty of Law, joking that he first had to learn something that he could teach.

In his opening speech, Frémont first stressed bilingualism as one of the reasons he chose the university.

“I was also attracted to the University of Ottawa because of its long and harmonious history of combining both Francophone and Anglophone cultures. The university has been committed to this unique cultural environment since its founding in 1848,” he said.

Questions soon turned to whether Frémont had spent too much of his career in Quebec rather than Ontario, and if he would be moving towards a fully Francophone university. He dispelled these concerns with his experience at universities internationally, saying the challenges were similar, and maintaining he was aware there was a push for a French language university in Ontario, but that the U of O would continue as a bilingual institution.

While Frémont openly spoke of these cultural concerns, he was hesitant to address sexual assault issues. When prompted as to whether there was a rape culture at the University of Ottawa in the wake of yet another sexual assault allegation against varsity athletes, he first responded he wouldn’t answer the question today.

However, Frémont then said, “these questions aren’t particular to the University of Ottawa. It’s everywhere, notably in North America, which is not to say that they shouldn’t be taken extremely seriously and I have no reason to believe that this was not taken in an extremely serious manner in the past.”

Questions then turned to tuition hikes, which the U of O has just seen a decade of, and how he would address them in the future.

“It’s not an ideological question. I think being extremely sensitive to the situation of students, then you have to be sensitive to the situation of institutions, and you must be very (sensitive) in a situation of dialogues and consultations on this issue,” Frémont said.

Frémont is scheduled to take over from Rock on July 1, 2016.