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U of O president Jacques Frémont in January 2020. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum

Frémont became head of university in 2016, will hold position until 2026

Content warning: Suicide 

University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont has been reappointed for a second term, which means he’ll lead the school until July 2026. The decision was approved at a Board of Governors (BOG) meeting on Monday evening. 

“I am very happy and indeed honoured by this vote of confidence from the members of the BOG,” Frémont said in a statement

Frémont, the 30th president of the U of O, was first appointed back in 2016 and succeeded Allan Rock, who had been at the helm of the school since 2008. 

Frémont is a lawyer by training and before coming to campus he was president of Quebec’s Human Rights Commission. He also held a number of roles at the University of Montreal, including dean of the faculty of law, director of the Public Law Research Centre, and provost and vice-rector academic affairs.

“Over the coming years, I will continue to strengthen the university’s place nationally and internationally, while still focusing on matters of mental health and diversity and inclusion, to make the U of O a model institution where students, professors and staff can achieve their full potential,” Frémont added in the statement. 

Frémont and the administration are currently facing a number of issues that have come to the forefront over the past year.

Students are demanding that the school take action on addressing racism and discrimination after two Black students were carded on campus in 2019.

Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce, a conflict studies and human rights student who was carded and handcuffed by Protection Services officers in June 2019, called the incident “blatant racism” and “physical, mental, emotional violence.” 

The school launched an independent investigation led by former vice-chair of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal Esi Codjoe found that Koulmiye-Boyce faced racial discrimination, with race, insufficient training, and outdated procedures played a role in the way he was treated.

A few months after Koulmiye-Boyce’s incident and just weeks after the university implemented four anti-discrimination measures, including an interim carding policy, education student Wiliston Mason was carded by a security officer in the residence building where he works and lives.

“You pay to come to school here, you should be able to feel safe on your own campus,” Mason said after the incident.

The administration banned the security officer in question from campus and said he is employed by a private firm under contract with the school.

Open letters from student leaders have said that the school “fails to address systemic racism in a meaningful way” and outlined a number of demands for change, including recurring anti-racism training for all university staff, the introduction of accountability measures, a stricter interpretation of the carding policy, and more community consultation.

At town hall meetings, dozens of Black students spoke openly about their experiences of racism on campus and pushed the U of O to hire more Black professors, start race-based data collection, and diversify curricula, among other recommendations. 

The second part of Codjoe’s investigation, which focused on the broader policies governing security on campus, recommended that the U of O collect race-based data on its student population, improve training for Protection Services officers, and continue making changes to security policies. 

In a statement last week, the administration said Frémont “accepted the conclusion of the report and committed the university to continuing efforts to address racism and discrimination.”

“There will be a series of gestures, small and big, in order to eliminate racism (on campus),”  Frémont said in a January interview. “We have to have a campus better than society as a whole. The standards for us should be higher.”

Meanwhile, student protesters and thousands of petition signers have demanded that Frémont and the administration improve the school’s mental health system after five student deaths in the past year. 

After the fifth student death was announced earlier this month, Frémont acknowledged that the school is facing a mental health “crisis” and said the administration is working to improve the services available to students. He urged students in need to seek help and said no student will be turned away from the walk-in clinic on campus. 

Frémont highlighted a recently released report on mental health and wellness at the university, which contained a number of recommendations for improvement that are set to be implemented in the near future. 

The school also announced the launch of a new task force on mental health in January, led by dean of the faculty of arts Kevin Kee, which will hold a town hall on mental health this Thursday. 

Last month, hundreds of students condemned and protested a Scientology linked anti-psychiatry exhibit that was set up on campus for a week. Frémont called the display —  which was installed just days after the school finished its annual wellness week — “outrageous” and “hurtful” but refused to have it taken down. 

“The U of O is committed —  and I am committed — to ensuring that the mental health needs of our students are addressed as comprehensively as possible on campus,” Frémont said at a press conference earlier this month. 

Frémont recently helped launch Transformation 2030, the school’s strategic plan for the next 10 years, made up of four pillars that say the university should look to be more agile, sustainable, connected, and impactful. 

“Since assuming his position in July 2016, Jacques Frémont has shown all the leadership qualities required to skillfully run a large-scale university such as the U of O, which is part of Canada’s U15 group of institutions and ranks among the top universities in the world,” Kathryn Butler Malette, chair of the BOG, said in a statement. “It’s a privilege to be able to continue to benefit from his expertise beyond the end of his current term.”