Business is business | The duty

HEC is the cradle of French Canadian and then Quebec economic nationalism. There, Esdras Minville, Lionel Groulx, François-Albert Angers and Jacques Parizeau worked to convince generations of students that they were not necessarily “born for a small loaf of bread” and that business could conjugate very well in French.

That will not stop HEC from adding a new English-taught master’s program from September next year, in addition to the MBA already offered in the language of Shakespeare.

“Maybe it will attract more foreign students. Many requests come from China and India. It’s not uninteresting, it creates great diversity within the school,” explains communications director Kathleen Grant in an interview with Le Devoir. Oh, the diversity!

Mrs. Grant does not mind that a student can graduate from HEC without having taken a single French course. “These students do not completely escape French. They go to the cafeteria to eat Shepherd’s pie, not Chinese pate. This is indeed reassuring.

It’s not just Asia. Students from French-speaking countries will certainly seize this opportunity. It is regrettable that they take advantage of discounted tuition fees to enroll with McGill or Concordia. The French, who already make up the majority of students enrolled at HEC, will therefore be able to cultivate their English in a “pure wool” establishment while enjoying the occasional Chinese pie and even a poutine.

Seriously, why should foreign students who want to immerse themselves in the Anglo-Saxon universe settle for a pale imitation? The best will always choose the original. Should we settle for those left behind? Why not count on what no other establishment can offer: North American know-how in French?

An English-taught bachelor’s degree is not yet offered, but Rome wasn’t built in a day either. From next autumn it will be possible to follow a bilingual bachelor’s degree at HEC. With five cohorts of students, we are not talking about a pilot project.

The message is clear: English for cracks, future bosses, French for rednecks. How can we convince immigrants that it is to their advantage to integrate into the French-speaking majority when we so clearly demonstrate the opposite?

Foreign students certainly won’t be the only ones coveting this passport to fortune. Many French-speaking Quebecers will also seize the opportunity. They are already causing traffic jams in English cegeps.

You have to be a little consistent. We cannot go to the barricades because English is ubiquitous in institutions like the Caisse depot or the National Bank and knowingly promoting its penetration.

Besides, why limit yourself to HEC? If English is the language of business, isn’t it also the language of scientific communication? Shouldn’t we make programs in English in faculties of medicine, engineering, etc.? Imagine all those Chinese and Indian students who would come everywhere to enrich our diversity!

“Our universities should serve and promote a job market in French,” said Impératif français president Jean-Paul Perreault, disappointed but not surprised at the direction HEC had taken.

The problem is that the market in question seems to be less and less French. La Presse reported this week that some 60 major companies are benefiting from a special agreement that allows them to circumvent the provisions of the Charter of the French Language. They can count on HEC to provide them with executives who can work in English.

Strangely enough, no one in the political milieu seemed to be moved by this progressive Anglicization of such an important institution in the economic and intellectual development of modern Quebec. On the part of the Charest government, this is not surprising, but the silence of the PQ is mind-boggling. Although…

Pauline Marois, herself a HEC graduate, like François Legault, was hesitant for a long time before committing to extend Law 101 to CEGEPs. Identity is all well and good, but there are limits to corny, aren’t there? After all, business is business.

Esdras Minville, soon to become HEC’s first French-Canadian director after two Belgians, wrote in 1930: “Staying true to ourselves in an environment changed by business; ensure the full fertilization of the heritage received from the past; collect, cultivate, refine our ethnic and psychological heredity; expand and not retreat; to adapt and not forsake us, that is the duty that history imposes on us.” OUI bien sur.

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