with bagpipes and traditional academic robes marked the installation of Suzanne Fortier as McGill’s 17th Principal and 13th Vice-Chancellor on Nov. 5.
Fortier, who is the first female McGill graduate to hold the positions, officially started her term Sept. 5. The installation is a symbolic ceremony in which Canadian Governor General David Lloyd Johnston presented the university’s Royal Charter and seal to Fortier’s keeping.
The Governor General has been the official Visitor of McGill since 1852, which means that he represents the founder, the public, and the Crown’s connection to the university. Johnston also has deeper ties to McGill, having served as the university’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor between 1979 and 1994.
To complete the official installation, McGill Chancellor Arnold Steinberg invested Fortier with the titles of Principal and Vice-Chancellor, after which Fortier took the Oath of Office, where she pledged to “faithfully carry out [her] duties.”
Other attendees included Quebec Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne; members of the National Assembly and Canadian Senate; McGill faculty members, students, administrative, and support staff; and members of other academic institutions such as Harvard University and the University of British Columbia.
Université de Montréal Rector Guy Breton welcomed Fortier to her new position on behalf of all Canadian universities.
“I know that you will take the best possible care of [McGill], because I know your passion for knowledge,” he said.
McGill chemistry professor Hanadi Sleiman, who gave an official greeting speech as a representative of McGill’s faculty members, expressed hope that Fortier’s leadership would promote the development of research and teaching at McGill.
“McGill has been able to attract an unusually large number of superb new faculty members who have joined our excellent current faculty members over the last 10 years,” Sleiman said. “[Fortier] arrives at a very special time of growth and optimism at McGill when world-class research and teaching initiatives are under way in every department and every unit of this university.”
Sophia-Maria Giannakakis, a SSMU Councillor who spoke on behalf of McGill students, asked Fortier to keep students in mind throughout her term as principal.
“Remember, that within our playful youthfulness lie serious scholars, ready to make a contribution to the upcoming world and to society any which way we can,” she said. “Even if [our] beginnings may be unique and diverse, we are students eager to learn from amazing people and to continue learning for the rest of our lives.”
Fortier used an analogy to describe McGill’s current status as a university at a crossroad of change as it reinvents itself for the 21st century.
“It is not easy to push ourselves with questions for which there are not neat solutions,” Fortier said. “It is not easy to accept that sometimes it is not our answers that are wrong, but our questions. It can be a challenge to cultivate this highly dynamic culture filled with intense debate and intense confrontation of ideas. We are the great collider, and even if the collider sometimes overheats, physics tells us that this is where you find the most exotic particles; the new ideas, the new paradigms; the discoveries.”
She described the direction in which she wants to take the university under her leadership.
“Our sights are set high,” Fortier said. “We want our university to be a place of choice for the brightest talents [….] We want a teaching and research environment that is dynamic and innovative. We want an educational experience that resonates a lifetime, and a university that responds to the needs of its neighbourhood, its province, its country, its world.”