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Allan Rock: New U Ottawa president

Former politician—without a Ph.D.—chosen to head one of Canada’s leading research universities


 

It was reported today in the French-language daily Le Droit that Allan Rock is about to be named as the University of Ottawa’s new president.

Rock would be the first non-francophone to head the bilingual institution, a fact that was understandably of great interest to a French-language newspaper. The article also notes that the search took nearly a year — in this, U of O is hardly unusual, as searches for university heads seem to be growing longer and longer. Le Droit also notes that Rock was not the first name on the list, since this position was supposed to have been filled by early 2008. Reporter Pierre Jury says that the selection committee of 11 made offers to others before Rock, but was faced with “several refusal”. The paper says that several other politicians, including former Liberal cabinet ministers John McCallum and John Manley, were among those considered for the post.

What may be most notable about this hire is that Rock is neither a lifetime scholar/academic nor a long-serving academic administrator. He’s had a successful career, but largely outside the university’s ranks. The man has spent most of his career as a practicing lawyer and a practicing politician. He also does not have a Ph.D., though he does have a law degree.

If Le Droit is right and Rock is the presumptive president of U of O, then his unusual background is certain to provoke discussion as to whether this novel hire is (a) the start of a trend and (b), whether it’s a trend that should be emulated or nipped in the bud. Ladies and gentlemen of the academy, start your argumentative engines….


 
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Allan Rock: New U Ottawa president

  1. The cynic in me predicts a small faculty uprising and Mr. Rock serving a single term. Faculty is the single biggest, immovable constituency that a president has to deal with and they are notoriously snobbish. If Mr. Rock starts trying to make changes that impact on their perceived academic freedoms or gets in the way of their research activities, they’ll dismiss him as not understanding research or the university environment. Somewhat comparable is the vice-chancellorship of John Hood at Oxford. For the first time in the history of the institution a non-Oxbridge man was appointed VC and the faculty simply would have nothing of it. I believe the (somewhat accurate) perception is that he has failed to achieve most of what he wanted to do to reform Oxford.

    I’m reminded of the old joke:
    How many faculty members does it take to change a light bulb?

    CHANGE!?

  2. I want to nuance Spencer’s post. In my personal experience (from U of O, coincidentally), it is not that faculty members are by nature conservative beings (in the sense of change-aversive, rather than in the political conservative sense). However, I have noticed that those in faculty members who get to high administrative positions (in the university, but also sometimes in their union) are those who generally want to keep things as they are. Mostly they are there to go up in the hierarchy, and it’s easier to do it by not disturbing anyone.

    U of O has been a good example of that, the Senate and Board of Governors vaguely resemble a king and his court from the Middle Ages, and all previous presidents have been coming from inside this “feudal system”.

    Will someone as Allan Rock have the ability to chance the internal workings of the university? Maybe not. It is possible, as Le Droit insinuated, that this move represents a desire to make the president into a more external / spokesperson role, and leave the academic direction mostly to the vice-president academic, a position currently held by a representative of the old guard and traditional elite of U of O (Robert Major).

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