What's in a name? Some Acadians have long struggled with Université de Moncton
Some Acadian groups are renewing calls for the Université de Moncton to be renamed as the school celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.
The university was named after the city — which was named for Robert Monckton, an 18th-century British military figure who was involved in the deportation of Acadians.
The issue of whether to rename the Université de Moncton goes back as far as the university's incorporation in 1963. According to a local historian, the "yes" and "no" camps on the issue are typically divided along regional lines, though it can depend on the parties involved in the debate.
"People who want to keep the name are, not surprisingly, in southern New Brunswick, mostly in the Moncton region," said Maurice Basque, a historian and scientific advisor at the Institut d'études acadiennes at Université de Moncton.
"Because the name is not only the name of the university, it's also the name of the city. And when you're an Acadian living in Moncton, or a newcomer who comes to Moncton, and after years or decades, you really don't think about Robert Monckton every day."
Basque pointed out that while most Acadians, especially those who attend the university, know who Robert Monckton is, he is hardly celebrated in the city. He said there are no statues of him, nor people dressing as him at city historical events.
However, Monckton, as a British military officer who was directly involved in the imprisonment and deportation of the Acadians, is still a very controversial figure.
"The nuance is important," said Basque. "The university was not named after Robert Monckton. The university was named after the city, the city was named after Robert Monckton. So some people will say it's exactly the same thing. Other people will say no, there's a big difference."
He said the first president and founder of the university, Clémont Cormier, was a proud Moncton Acadian.
"All his life he promoted good relationships between Acadians and anglophones," said Basque. "And for him, taking the name of the city would be saying the city also belongs to us, not only to anglophones."
However, Basque says some Acadians see it as a concession to anglophones.
Even if there was enough interest in changing the name, he sees achieving consensus on choosing a name as nearly impossible. The university has three campuses, including one in Edmundston and one in Shippagan, many donors, alumni and other parties to account for in such a decision.
Historically, Basque explained, that was also a reason for naming it after the city where it was located — the university was incorporated by combining six other francophone colleges and they needed a name that worked for everyone.
Denis Prud'homme, the president and vice-chancellor of the Université de Moncton, said recently he is open to considering renaming of the university if there is pronounced public interest.
He made the comment in response to Green Party MLA Kevin Arseneau asking whether Prud'homme would consider changing the name, during a meeting of the select committee on public universities in the New Brunswick legislature.
"If there is a group, social consensus, on this issue, we will listen and we will do things how they should be done," said Prud'homme, speaking in French. "We will listen and act if there is a critical mass who demonstrates that this issue was a blind spot and should be put back on our radar."
Prud'homme said a letter requesting the change of name had been submitted previously to the board of governors of the university, but there was a decision by all parties at the table not to proceed with it at that time.
'More openness' to change, MLA says
Renaming was also brought up by the public during the university's consultations leading up to their recent strategic planning, he said, but was not held up as a priority by the participants.
According to Arseneau, who represents the riding of Kent North, changing the name has been a discussion that seems to come up every few years for as long as he can remember, but no action has ever been taken.
He said he was "very pleased" by the response from Prud'homme, saying it was more openness to the idea than he or the institution had shown in the past.
"Lately, there's this movement of a lot of community members from the Acadian community," said Arseneau. "To have a name that better reflects the importance and the place that the University of Moncton takes for Acadians and for francophones in New Brunswick."
Arseneau believes the most recent discussion was brought on by an open letter written in French by Jean-Marie Nadeau last month, who suggested the university adopt the name Université de l'Acadie.
However Arseneau, an alumnus of Université de Moncton, admits there are some in the Acadian community who do not consider the university's name an issue worth pursuing.
Progressive Conservative MLA Daniel Allain said, speaking in French at the committee meeting, said that following the renaming of some communities as part of local governance reform, he thinks it can be good exercise to reflect on who we are and our vision for the future.
However, he added that he trusts that Clément Cormier and then-premier Louis-J. Robichaud knew what they were doing when they chose the name years ago.
One other former president of the university, Jean-Bernard Robichaud, president from 1990 to 2000, also expressed he may be open to a name change for the institution but was met with swift disapproval from influential Acadians in the Moncton area, Basque said.
Arseneau sees the next step as gathering information, a process he said he will follow it with interest.
"I think that the whole thought process is the most important right now," he said.