19 de Octubre de 2021
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La Educación
Número: (117) I
Año: 1994

Acceptance Speech by Dr. Gilles Boulet

Mr. President,
Mr. Executive Director,
Members of the Board of Directors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
and all my dear friends,

It is difficult to express just how deeply touched I am to receive this Interamerica Prize.

This recognition from the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education confirms what many of you have always said, namely that the IOHE is an organization that was worth setting up, worth the effort it took to build up, and worthy of all the energy we must devote to it on an ongoing basis.

I have always had deep faith in the objective we set out to achieve of bringing universities in North, Central and South America together. In many respects, our countries are quite distinct from each other. They are home to people from different ethnic backgrounds. They each have very distinct cultures that characterize them. Their economies are moving forward at different rates. Social conditions are not uniform from one to the next; and they express their thoughts and cultural values in different languages.

However, they are all American. They are all young, remarkably vibrant countries, whose peoples, to varying degrees, represent melting pots of settlers of European, African, and Asian descent mixed in with very ancient groups of indigenous peoples. They have all shed ties from colonizing mother countries whose friendships they value and whose memories they cherish, but whose influence they view with apprehension. They have all embarked upon cultural journeys and defined their territories, proud to defend their personalities and sovereignty as nations. Yet, they constantly invoke their place in America and their wish to unite together in matters of common interest.

Each one of our countries resembles each of the others in that all are a strange and hard-to-define mixture of vastly divergent economic classes with, serious and unacceptable social problems, rampant unemployment and poverty, and certain groups of people who are ignored and rejected and living lives of desperation.

It was in thinking how the peoples of the three Americas shared a common bond, how they were similar rather than how they were different, how they were all American rather than how they were each distinct, how their needs and problems were analogous rather than how their dissimilarities pushed them apart, that I came to have the idea of creating an organization that would link South and North, that could work to bring our countries closer together, uniting us as one to seek out solutions to the problems we face every day, each and every one of us.

I believe that only universities can create this kind of unity. Many politicians have tried. Many economists have dreamed of it. Many philosophers can talk about it. But I still believe only universities can succeed in it.

Each of the universities we represent carries deep within it the culture of its people, the identity of its country, the knowledge of its country’s problems, the desire for solutions.

Each of our universities is the product of a specific environment for which it is, at one and the same time, the standard-bearer and the subconscience. Each of our universities has the task of training professionals, the scientists that will one day solve all the problems, every one of them, that are uniquely tjeirs to solve. Each of our universities is a centre where the most scientifically advanced researchers are to be found, the ones that are most able to analyze and understand the socio-economic environment in which it operates.

In my view, the answer has always been starkly clear. If we could bring all these universities together, they then could be mutual sources of ongoing enrichment through contacts, exchanges, and participation in each other’s work. Such constant, cultivated enrichment of all our universities, wherever they may be, no matter how prestigious they may be, could only result in the enrichment and development of the socio-economic environments they represent.

This goal is the very essence of the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education—to bring together universities from the three Americas so that they, by enriching each other, may enrich each of their countries and each of the regions of their countries.

The universities I know, all the universities you represent, can easily overcome the difficulties that arise from cultural and economic differences, and break down borders everywhere to create a chain of enrichment and mutual support that contributes to the greater welfare of each of our peoples.

This goal, this objective, this common undertaking has long been accepted by all the members of our organization. Each one of us is striving towards it, and the results we have achieved thus far are stupendous. I have to admit that, looking back, I admire the progress we have made, the goals we have reached, the programs we have set up, the network we have succeeded in establishing. All this is the result of the faith you have had in the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education, the work you have done for it, the vibrancy you have infused it with, and also of the tremendous devotion of its leaders and, most importantly, of the staff at its Secretariat. I would be very pleased if each one of you could come some day to Quebec City to see how the personnel of the Secretariat, and particularly its Executive Director, give their all so that our organization may continue to move forward. This small team, under the leadership of Mr. Van der Donckt, is utterly devoted to its task. You really have to see them work to appreciate what wonderful work they actually do.

Which leads me to conclude with a word about the future.

Up until now, our organization has been chiefly funded by the Canadian government through the Canadian International Development Agency. However, today Canada is still trying to recover from an economic recession that has lasted for years. The money the Canadian government allocates for international development has been severely cut over the last two years. This has had a direct impact on the financial support CIDA provides to the IOHE.

As it is, the IOHE’s budgets for this year and next have been much reduced. Many of our programs will suffer greatly. It would appear essential and urgent to me that each one of you who truly believes in the role of the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education work to find other sources of funding that can help sustain the IOHE’s current pace of operations and development. It would appear essential and urgent to me that those of your countries which are enjoying the greatest economic vibrancy make a more significant financial contribution to our organization.

I know this is possible and I sincerely hope we can make it happen. I apologize for concluding with this call for help. But we have accomplished too much, succeeded too fully, and come too far to give up now on this jewel of American development that we call the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education.