Honorary Degree Citation - René Balcer

by Dennis Murphy, November 2008

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you René Balcer, a Concordia alumnus who became one of America's leading-producers and writers for television and who exemplifies the Concordia spirit of critical thinking social involvement and giving back to society.

It has been my privilege for nearly 10 years to have taught several generations of talented and gifted Communication Studies students. As with any teacher, some stand out and a few remain lifetime acquaintances, and even friends. Such is the case with René Balcer.

From my first contact with him, I was struck by this insightful young man who had a sharp mind and who was such a talented writer. As I got to know René, I also discovered an individual who had a passion for public issues and a desire to find a voice and a platform to explore his commitment to these issues.

Luckily for all of us, he channeled much of this energy into the creation of Law & Order and changed the paradigm for television drama for millions of viewers worldwide. René put his personal stamp on Law and Order. Over 18 years, he wrote more than 180 episodes and also created Law and Order Criminal Intent.

René Balcer has shown us that a TV series can make us think about some of the most critical issues of the day. From terrorism to the limits of free speech, to issues of state and religion, the characters on Law & Order wrestle with problems that are the content of our daily newspapers and newscasts. Through his talent arid skill, René has shown us that complex character development and mature themes can be presented on commercial television in an entertaining and educational format

Although René has gone to the top of his field and won too many awards to list, he has not forgotten Concordia. If you watch and listen carefully you will find references to people from Concordia, as well as references to Montreal and Canada in the scripts he writes or supervises. In his own inimitable way, René will often honour friends or settle old accounts by associating heroes or villains with the names of his old professors or his lifelong friends. One of these lifelong friends was Daniel Feist, broadcaster and teacher, who would have been so proud of his close friend and who would be present today were it not that Daniel's life ended far too early.

René has never forgotten his roots. As he conducts writing and production seminars across the U. S. and Europe, René always takes particular care to participate in class discussions at Concordia, either in person or by telephone. René and his wife Carolyn are also involved in a multitude of art; philanthropic, and educational projects both in North America and China

René Balcer has changed the way that we watch and engage in popular television. He has contributed to initiating some well-needed discussion about issues which directly affect our lives. If a TV program can contribute to raising the level of civic discourse and debate then René Balcer has succeeded where many others have failed.

So, as is my habit, I want to thank René one more time for building upon his Concordia experience and giving back so much to all of us. We honour him today. But he has been honouring us and this institution for the past three decades through his work And from now on it will be quite permissible when speaking with René to say in that old Hollywood tradition, "What's up, Doc?"

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you René Balcer, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.