Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.7

December 2, 2004


Concordia is no ivory tower, Lowy tells business group

By Jessie Gabe

President Frederick Lowy spoke on Nov. 23 to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce. Here are some excerpts from his speech:

It is remarkable that Quebec’s universities have been able to do more with less so that the quality of education has not yet slipped too much and research productivity, during the past seven years (thanks in part to the large infusion of funding by the Government of Canada) remains high.

But the signs of quality erosion are starting to appear, and unless the chronic under-funding is reversed, this will become significant.

Why not a federal-provincial commission on higher education? I am confident that such a commission would have to address the fiscal imbalance between the two levels of government with regard to education, as other commissions have done for health.

The result could well be a formula acceptable to the provinces, including Quebec, for federal participation in funding core university activities. Such bilateral arrangements in support of university research already exist: for example, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which has made a huge difference for Montreal universities.

Let me now turn to what the universities must do. I believe that our universities must place priority on relevance to society. In my view, the primary objective for a 21st-century Canadian university is to help prepare students to become responsible citizens of a democracy.

These include the primacy of law and justice; respect for people; tolerance of values with which one disagrees; the right to security and order; and the need to balance personal advantage with the greater good of the collective, the community. Both academic and extra-curricular activities are important in this regard.

Let me remind you that Concordia, which has grown by 30 per cent during the past decade, is a remarkably diverse place. Among its 32,000 degree students and 8,000 continuing education students this year are men and women from 137 countries and every ethnic group that has established itself in Montreal.

Many study part time, about 70 per cent hold a job while they study, and many are the first in their families to enter university. They bring to Concordia not only a richness of diverse languages, religions and cultures but also diverse values.

While they are attracted to our way of life in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, many also continue to identify with the societies from which they or their families came, and understandably, they retain strong feelings of affiliation with those societies. It is not surprising that tensions elsewhere in the world are also experienced on Concordia’s campus.

Sometimes this leads to problems that bring us much unwanted (and often unfair) publicity. But these episodes are rare.

I am now in the final year of my mandate as President/Recteur of Concordia University. During the past decade I have personally experienced both the frustration of leading an underfunded institution and the tremendous gratification of seeing first hand what a difference an engaged university can make in the lives of so many people.