“I always felt that Concordia was one of the
most exciting universities in Canada,” says Claude Lajeunesse,
exuding his pleasure at being back in Montreal to begin a five-year
term as Concordia’s President and Vice-Chancellor. “The
concept of Concordia — being a very open, very accessible and
very high-quality institution — was something that was attractive
to me.” Lajeunesse, who took office August 1, adds that being
located in the energetic, bilingual and multicultural milieu of Montreal,
“a city on the move,” is a great strength for a university.
Lajeunesse is no stranger to cosmopolitan campuses — the skilled academic administrator comes to Concordia following a successful decade at Toronto’s Ryerson University, where he oversaw a 40 per cent increase in undergraduate enrolment and a fourfold increase in international students. His leadership there also saw the development of a broadened curriculum, including 14 new graduate programs, and the opening of six new buildings.
An engineer by training (see biography below), Lajeunesse has experienced the academic world from many different perspectives: as a professor, researcher, administrator, and executive at major funding and research agencies and professional associations in Canada.
Universal financial challenges
As head of the Association of Universities and Colleges
of Canada from 1988 to 1995, Lajeunesse worked to organize and represent
Canadian universities on both the national and international scenes,
and came to understand the financial challenges faced by all universities.
Due to their structure, involvement in technology and the current
intense competition for faculty and employees, “the cost of
living is increasing in universities at a much higher rate than the
normal cost of living,” Lajeunesse explains. “That in
itself puts tremendous pressure on every university to try to make
ends meet — it’s not a problem that is exclusive to Concordia.
Those who succeed are the ones who take these challenges and turn
them into opportunities.”
For universities in Canada, a key issue is their support from government and from tuition fees — less than 10 per cent of funding comes from other sources. In the 1960s, Lajeunesse points out, tuition in Quebec was between $500 and $600. “At the time you could buy a brand new car for about double that price,” he says. “Nowadays, the tuition is $1,800, and you certainly cannot buy a new car for $3,600. Clearly, there are many students who can afford to invest more in their own education.”
But Lajeunesse asserts that “government should not be allowed to increase tuition until there is a solid program of bursaries and scholarships for students who need it. We need to provide that.”
Building sustained support
Claude Lajeunesse recognizes that some of the key
factors for Concordia’s success in the next five to 10 years
include increasing its endowment, providing more scholarships and
bursaries to its students, and continuing to modernize its buildings.
He believes that the Concordia community and its alumni will play
a major role in developing this success.
“When you call alumni, when you call the community and say, ‘We need support for our needy students,’ the response is always the best that you can have,” he says. In other words, the cause speaks for itself. “Excellence and support for students, research and community involvement are very well understood and supported by the community.”
Lajeunesse has hit the ground running. Over the past year, Provost and Vice President, Academic Affairs, Martin Singer, in consultation with colleagues across the university’s academic departments, has developed an academic plan that outlines strategies and goals for the next five years (see Moving Ahead [pdf]). Lajeunesse affirms that the fine points, such as budget, need to be worked out, and then over the next year the academic plan will be rolled out across the institution.
Looking forward, Lajeunesse hopes to organize a symposium on the globalization of education in the near future. This is an issue that should concern Concordia, he feels. There is generally much greater mobility in today’s world, “and if you look at those who hire our graduates, they want them to have an understanding that goes beyond local issues, for example, of other types of cultures.” Concordia now has a significant number of international students, which has become an important force within the university, he adds. At the same time, Lajeunesse believes broadening Concordia’s horizon includes forming closer partnerships with the other three Montreal universities.
The new president believes the goal of partnerships locally, nationally and internationally is to ensure Concordia provides its students with a better learning experience. “Universities are not there only to prepare people to work,” Lajeunesse says. “They have to be that. Nowadays people go to university to work, but at the same time, the role of the universities is to prepare them to be better citizens and to understand issues — that’s critical.” One of the major issues of today’s world is the need for a clearer understanding of international cultures and issues, Lajeunesse adds. “And that’s one of the roles that the university should play for all of its students.”
A brief biography
Claude Lajeunesse holds a Ph.D. (1969) and a Master
of Science (1967) in nuclear engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute in Troy, New York. He obtained his Bachelor of Applied Science
in Engineering Physics from l'École Polytechnique, l’Université
de Montréal, in 1965.
He began his career as a senior staff physicist at the Combustion Engineering Company in Windsor, Connecticut, then became associate professor in engineering physics at l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, becoming head of the engineering department in 1972.
In 1974, he assumed responsibility as syndic and head of legal affairs for l’Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec in Montreal and four years later became general manager of the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers in Ottawa.
In 1984, he served as director of targeted research for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) in Ottawa. In 1987, he returned briefly to Montreal to serve as president and chief executive officer of le Centre de recherche informatique de Montréal (CRIM), an organization which brings together stakeholders, resources and financing for the information technology sector in Quebec.
From 1988 to 1995, Lajeunesse headed the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, a post he left to become president of Ryerson University in Toronto.
See a full biography of Claude Lajeunesse
If you have any comments about this article, contact
Howard Bokser, (514) 848-2424 ext. 3826, Howard.Bokser@concordia.ca