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Frémont released a second email statement saying “reflection and calm are required.” Image: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum.
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Frémont released a second statement while student-led petition reached 10,000 signatures on Wednesday evening

Late Wednesday evening, the University of Ottawa’s president Jacques Frémont released a second email statement to staff and students at the university saying “reflection and calm are required” following nation-wide controversy. 

In recent days, tensions have developed within the U of O community after professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval’s use of the ‘N-word’ during a lecture sparked a national debate on academic freedom and the use of the ‘N-word’ in the classroom. 

Various media outlets have reported on the topic with many students taking to social media to share their opinions and politicians including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec Premier François Legault and New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh making public comments. Organizations within the university have also released opposing statements regarding the controversy leading to multiple petitions from staff and students.

“We are currently witnessing a disagreement between two diametrically opposed camps attacking each other through various media channels,” explained Frémont. “In such a hostile and disrespectful environment, little progress can be made. The more tension we have around these social issues, the more radicalized and polarized the discourse becomes and the more difficult it is to find a viable way forward.”

“Our community deserves better, and I am pleased to note that its members have in recent days and despite divergent positions, nevertheless converged on the essential: an open University where the fundamental missions are articulated in full respect for the academic freedom and dignity of each of its members and where all deserve to be treated with dignity and not to be marginalized.”

Earlier in the evening, the Association of Part-Time Professors of the University of Ottawa (APTPUO) released a statement stating their concerns with Frémont’s first message that was sent out on Monday. 

“While he recognizes the importance of academic freedom, he also sends a stark message that professors are completely on their own to face any public wrath and social media trials in response to their teachings and scholarly work at the University of Ottawa,” wrote the Union. 

“We are also deeply concerned that the President’s statement encourages self-censorship and will further compromise the already fragile exercise of academic freedom that our precariously employed members have in practice. Universities are places where over centuries academics have fought to be free from religious interference, from state interference, from corporate interference, and from managerial interference in the exercise of their research, teaching, and service to the community.”

The U of O’s president was clear in his new statement: “Make no mistake, my wish is that this debate can take place. Questions pertaining to academic freedom and freedom of expression are fundamental. Equally profound are questions concerning the right to be treated with dignity.”

“Every professor has a duty to establish a healthy and respectful learning environment. Every professor must also moderate discussion that may at times be difficult in such a way as to ensure that the rights of students are never infringed upon. I know that this is a concern for every one of our professors.”

He also explained the full process behind temporarily withdrawing Lieutenant-Duval from her classroom in early October — including the participation of her respective union. 

“I can stipulate that the dean of arts intervened at the request of the professor and of students to attempt to resolve tensions that were undermining the teaching and learning environment. Let me reassure you that the decision to withdraw her temporarily from the classroom long enough to look into the situation was not taken arbitrarily, and that her academic freedom was at no point threatened.”

“This response was clearly in line with the collective bargaining agreement that governs the working conditions of part-time faculty members at uOttawa. Both the professor and her union took part in the process that led to her returning to her duties; she remained an employee of uOttawa throughout this process.”

Frémont reiterated the university’s commitment to a campus free of racism.  

“Simply put, the University of Ottawa condemns racism in all its forms, full stop.”

Student-led petition reaches 10,000 signatures 

More than 10,000 people have signed a petition launched by two U of O students calling on the university to discipline “Dr.Verushka Lieutenant-Duval and ban the use of the N-word.”

Created by Laeticia Tir and Akash Ranu, the petition is a response to the letter co-signed by 34 professors defending Lieutenant-Duval’s academic freedom.  

“It started when we were made aware of the petition that the professors had created directed to being allowed to use the N-word as well as denying any need for repercussions against the professor in question,” wrote Tir, a first-year biomedical student in a message to the Fulcrum. “Our goal was to refute that by showing just how many students are hurt and offended by their careless use of such a slur.”

“[I signed it] because I’m really unsure how students are supposed to feel welcome if the president is putting academic freedom before the safety of Black students in our classrooms,” said Fallon Benson, a second-year common law student.

“I signed it because I really feel the voices of Black students are being ignored even though this is a Black issue,” added first-year bachelor of science and psychology student, Jasmin Smith. “It’s really good that it got so many signatures [and] I’m really glad that it’s getting noticed by so many people so that the university can’t push it under the rug.”

Since being launched on Oct. 18, the petition has become a way for those within the U of O community to voice their concerns. The amount of signatures on the petition has surprised both Tir and Ranu and “shows how many people realize the gravity of this situation.”