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Margin Notes

Presidents and politics


In this job I’ve met most of Canada’s university presidents at one time or another, and I’ve often thought many of them possess the types of skills that would serve them well if ever they decided to take a run at politics – diplomacy, an engaging personality, excellent communications skills, intellect, the ability to balance competing interests, etc. There are several current and past presidents I’d vote for in an instant, and I think the political system would be better off with their involvement.

But, I won’t hold my breath. I know of many examples of university professors who’ve jumped into the political ring (Michael Ignatieff, to name the most obvious, and, uhm, Stéphane Dion), but very few former university presidents. I suspect many would consider the messy world of politics a step down, and that’s a shame.

Scouring my imperfect memory, I know the current rector of Université de Sherbrooke, Bruno-Marie Béchard, ran for the Liberals back in the June 2004 federal election, but was unsuccessful. However, I’m pleased to note that the past rector of Université Laval, Michel Pigeon, did succeed in this week’s Quebec election, getting elected as a Liberal in the riding of Charlesbourg. I don’t know him personally, but wish him well.

Does anybody else have an example of a university president-turned-politician, or a suggestion of someone you’d like to see throw their hat into the ring, and why? (You can use the comments function by clicking the comment link just below, or send me an e-mail.)

Addendum, Dec. 11, 2008: It just occurred to me that while most university presidents may be reluctant to enter politics, the flow does go the other way. Two obvious examples are Lloyd Axworthy and Alan Rock, both prominent federal cabinet ministers in their day, and now respectively president of the University of Winnipeg and the University of Ottawa. (Have you noticed all the examples in this post were Liberals? That was not deliberate, but it is interesting to ponder nevertheless…)

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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