Pomp and warm wishes for a new president

By Barbara Black

President Claude Lajeunesse dons his official robe, as Registrar Linda Healey helps him. He also received a chain of office, presented by his predecessor, Frederick Lowy.

Photo by Luigi d’Astolofo

The lovely cream-and-gilt chapel of the Grey Nuns Mother House was brightened by a red Concordia banner and the many colours of traditional academic hoods on Oct. 21, as Claude Lajeunesse was sworn in as President.

The actual installation was over in about five minutes. Dr. Lajeunesse repeated the oath of office and signed it, and was invested with his robe and a chain of office.

His speech was notable for its determined tone and its specific promises.

“In order to make Concordia a top-ranked international university, we will need to weave excellence into our institutional DNA — nothing less,” he said.

“We can achieve this goal if we work together, and if all of us are prepared to set aside our personal interests to act in the higher interests of the university.”

He committed himself to completing the new John Molson School of Business building, transforming the Grey Nuns Convent “into the jewel of our downtown campus,” expanding graduate programs, building new residences and a student centre, and upgrading recreation and athletic facilities.

“We will move Concordia to the top five among Canada’s comprehensive non-medical universities in terms of support from the federal granting councils, and we will increase the number of research chairs from 61 to 100.”

Lajeunesse said admission standards would be raised without compromising accessibility. He promised to keep up the pressure on the Quebec government to improve funding and lift the tuition freeze.

In a moving reference to Marguerite d’Youville, founder of the Grey Nuns religious order, he said she provided health care and education for all, “disabled soldiers, French and English, native people and contagious patients turned away by other establishments, contrary to the practices of the time. This remains inspirational and relevant to us today.”

The chain of office was placed around the new president’s neck by his predecessor, Frederick Lowy, to whom he gave credit for leading Concordia’s remarkable growth in recent years.

The mace, a heavy ceremonial staff, was used for the first time in this ceremony. It was borne at the head of the academic procession by the installation marshal, senior professor Jane Stewart. The eloquent invocation that opened the ceremony was by Professor Donald Boisvert.

After his speech, Lajeunesse was warmly greeted by representatives of more than 20 Canadian universities, and many others sent their congratulations.

Brief speeches of welcome were made by Eva Egron-Polak, secretary-general of the International Association of Universities, McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, representing AUCC, UQAM Rector, Roch Denis, representing CREPUQ, federal cabinet minister Lucienne Robillard, provincial cabinet minister Line Beauchamp, and Francine Sénécal, vice-chair of Montreal’s executive committee.

Organist Patrick Wedd and a chamber ensemble (Liselyn Adams, flute, Hélène Gagné, cello, Peter Purich, violin and Jean MacRae, viola) played before the ceremony, and tenor Clayton Kennedy, an undergraduate student, sang O Canada in English and French.

As the procession left the hall, jazz musicians Dave Turner, Marc Villemure, Adam Over, Brendan Krieg, Melissa Pipe, Dave Grott and Bill Mahar played Oscar Peterson’s Hymn to Freedom, Félix Leclerc’s Hymme au printemps and Another Step Forward, by Professor Andrew Homzy.

The roughly 900 guests, faculty members and dignitaries enjoyed a reception after the ceremony, along with the small army of staff members who organized the installation events.