The University of Ottawa took the lead by awarding Michaëlle Jean her first honorary doctorate in 2006. Five years and 10 honorary degrees later, this university, one of Canada’s oldest, has appointed the former Governor General its 13th chancellor. She succeeds Huguette Labelle who steps down on January 31 after 17 years.
The university’s president and vice-chancellor, Allan Rock, said the institution’s students, professors and staff are happy and proud to welcome Jean as a member of their extended family.
“The unifying values championed by Jean fully match our university’s desire for a healthy academic environment, open to the world and looking towards the future,” said Rock.
Jean served as Canada’s 27th Governor General for five years up until September 2010. She’s the United Nations Economic, Scientific & Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) special envoy for Haiti and co-chair of the Michaëlle Jean Foundation which supports citizens across Canada through the arts and culture as means of social transformation and youth mobilization.
“I am very excited about this appointment and I thank the members of the Board of Governors and the Senate, as well as the president of the university, for the trust they have placed in me,” said Jean. “At this time, I also wish to send greetings to the faculty and students. I am thrilled to be able to reflect their goals and achievements. In this regard, Huguette Labelle’s outstanding contributions and complete dedication can only serve as an inspiration.”
Born in Haiti, Jean and her family moved to Montreal in 1968 to flee the Duvalier regime. She studied Comparative Literature at the Universite de Montreal, taught Italian in that university’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and worked in shelters for female victims of domestic violence. She also helped establish a network of emergency shelters in Quebec and across Canada before enjoying an outstanding career as a television journalist, anchor and host of news programs on Radio-Canada and CBC Newsworld (now CBC News Network).
In March 2009, the Michaëlle Jean Canadian Chair in Caribbean and African Diasporic Studies was launched at the University of Alberta. The chair aims to conduct research into the Caribbean and African Diaspora’s historical and contemporary experiences in Canada, offer study-abroad opportunities in Africa and the Caribbean and recruit world-class scholars, top undergraduate and graduate students.
As the university’s titular head, the chancellor is appointed by the board with the concurrence of the Senate. The successful candidate holds office for four years with eligibility for re-appointment.
Jean will assume her new role on February 1. She is the third Caribbean-born national to be appointed chancellor of a Canadian university. Jamaicans Dr. Raymond Chang and Michael Lee-Chin were installed at Ryerson University and Wilfrid Laurier University in 2006 and last month respectively.