In the wake of the surprise resignation of Concordia’s President Judith Woodsworth last month, the University’s senate passed a unanimous motion Friday calling for the resignation of the chair of the university’s Board of Governors (BoG), Peter Kruyt.
The motion came on the heels of a BoG decision earlier that morning to re-appoint Frederick Lowy as interim President while the university attempts to sort out a governance crisis that has sent the campus into turmoil in recent weeks.
Though she initially claimed she was stepping down for “personal reasons,” the circumstances of Woodsworth’s resignation remain shrouded in mystery and conjecture. She later confirmed that she was discreetly forced to resign by the BoG itself. The board’s motivations may remain unclear, and students and faculty alike are incensed by the administration’s lack of transparency in this matter.
The past two weeks have seen a spate of resolutions from the union’s faculty departments, student groups, and employee unions – all roundly criticizing the BoG’s silence on the matter of Woodsworth’s resignation.
Another serious concern has been the severance packages the university has doled out to the numerous high-level administrators who have resigned in recent months. Woodsworth herself will receive a payout to the tune of $703,500 – the equivalent of two years’ pay – stipulated in her contract. Her predecessor in the university’s presidency resigned under similarly opaque circumstances in 2007, and received over $1 million as part of his severance package.
Concordia’s VP Advancement and Alumni Relations Kathy Assayag, and VP Services Michael Di Grappa have also resigned this year – McGill has since hired Di Grappa as its new VP (Administration and Finance).
Maria Peluso, the president of the university’s part-time faculty association, has stated that, as a “conservative” estimate, the university has shelled out $10 million in severance packages and early retirement payouts in the past decade.
This number remains subject to speculation, however, given the confidential nature of the contracts the university has signed with its upper-level administrators.
“They seem to be signing non-disclosure contracts, leaving everyone in the dark,” said Erik Chevrier, one of the graduate students on senate. “This is extremely problematic to university governance, especially given that the university is a public institution and they seem to be giving out all these golden parachutes.”
When pressed for details on Woodsworth’s resignation, Kruyt has emphasized that her contract with the university demands a certain degree of confidentiality, and that those stipulations should be respected.
Many of the statements issued by faculty groups call for a full independent audit of “all extra payments made to former senior administrators as well as others still working in the senior administration.”
In addition to the motion urging Kruyt’s resignation, the senate – composed of 27 faculty members and 16 students – passed two other motions Friday afternoon demanding reform at the BoG level. All three passed unanimously. One called for the establishment of a Special Governance Commission to investigate the details of Woodsworth’s resignation and make recommendations accordingly.
The other demanded that the university strike a hiring committee composed in equal parts of senate members and BoG members to oversee the future appointment of board members chosen to represent the community at large – a task that has hitherto been undertaken by the board itself.
“It’s problematic if they’re appointing themselves, and we’ve seen the results of that,” said Chevrier.
Concordia Student Union (CSU) president Heather Lucas acknowledged that several students feel a serious “disconnect” with the BoG, and said she hopes that Friday’s senate meeting will have some sort of meaningful impact on the Board’s operations
“It’s a good start for clarifying governance at Concordia,” she said. “This is not a problem that’s going to get solved overnight. … It takes a whole collective effort to move forward.”
Half of the BoG’s 46 members represent the “community-at-large,” meaning they are not on the university’s payroll. The vast majority of these members hold executive positions at large Montreal-based businesses.
Many of the public statements made by the faculty departments in recent weeks also express concern that these BoG members intend to further reduce faculty representation on the Board.
“We are concerned that the community-at-large members should represent the community-at-large, and not just elite business members,” said Chevrier.
He added that none of these members attended the Senate meeting in the afternoon, where they could have addressed the concerns being raised by students and faculty. “I think that’s extremely troubling. It seems this is a situation that was made by them, but they’re unwilling to explain anything.”
The development speaks to a growing distrust among students and faculty of the external members of the BoG. Many have seen their terms expire, but remain on the BoG. A motion passed by CSU on January 12 called for the immediate resignation of all of these members “as per their own by-laws.”
Despite the turmoil and widespread distrust of the BoG, Lucas is confident that Lowy, the incoming interim president, will help solve the crisis of confidence the university’s governance structures seem to be facing.
“He seems very genuine about meeting everyone at the table – students, faculty, and staff. All the professors he met with couldn’t say anything negative…so this is a sign of hope for us to get us back on track. … We need to move forward and learn from our mistakes and make sure this never happens again.”