Concordia’s Board of Governors, the highest decision-making body of the university, is set to cut its membership from 40 to 25. This move, in response to criticisms of Board misgovernance, will see undergraduate student representation cut from four fully voting members to one.
Previously, there was one undergraduate representative for every 8, 805 students on the Board, but, with amended membership, a single undergraduate member will represent all 35,408 Concordia Student Union (CSU) members. The single representative of graduate students will remain on the Board.
After a week of pressure from the CSU before the vote, the Board included a second undergraduate student position on the board as an alternate governor. While occupying committee positions and exercising speaking rights at all meetings, this alternate governor has no vote unless the undergraduate representative is not present.
The university “felt that this was a good compromise to allow students to have a voice,” said Chris Mota, the head of Concordia’s media relations, on the decision to add an alternate undergraduate governor to the Board.
The CSU is not satisfied with this inclusion of a non-voting student presence.
“We don’t want your sympathy, we want a vote,” said CSU president Lex Gill on the decrease of student representation. She sees the addition of an alternate governor as a sign that “they have acknowledged there’s a problem and found a completely inadequate solution.”
The university cites two documents as the impetus for changes to the Board’s membership.
Bill 38, a provincial bill that would mandate standardized restrictions on university governance across Quebec, including limited internal university representation. The bill, proposed in 2009, was quickly tabled after criticism from all levels of university governance, and shows no sign of being immediately brought back to the table for consideration.
The second document is the External Governance Review Committee report released earlier this year. Former McGill Principal Bernard Shapiro chaired this committee, charged with reviewing Concordia’s governance structures.
The recommendations to downsize the Board came as an attempt to increase governance efficiency.
Mota commended the changes for helping to bring the university’s governance in line with the governance structures of other universities across the province. There are currently 25 members on the McGill Board, with one voting undergraduate representative – a similar composition to the proposed Concordia Board.
“The university feels that all of these measures are moving toward progress,” said Mota. Concerning the issue of decreased student representation, Mota told The Daily that “clearly the board felt that this was an appropriate move for the time, recognizing that students would not be happy.”
SSMU VP University Affairs Emily Yee Clare addressed the assumption that a smaller board will necessarily bring increased efficiency. “You may increase the efficiency in terms of time, but increasingly the overall dynamism of the group and the ability to represent one’s constituency is a different matter. It shouldn’t be a question of numbers.”
The vote on this motion to cut the Board’s membership numbers did not go unchallenged during the Board’s meeting on September 28. “We did everything procedurally possible to stop [the vote],” said Gill.
The chair of the board, Peter Kruyt, decided to call a vote by secret ballot, and, when challenged on this decision, Gill said that Kruyt decided it is not permissible to challenge the decision of the chair.
According to Gill, when a student gallery member challenged Kruyt’s actions as undemocratic, Rita de Santis, a Board member and member of the Ad Hoc Governance Review Committee – which authored the motion – responded, “We’ll talk about democracy later.”
This was the prelude to Kruyt’s telling Gill, “We’re done, we’re done, we’re done,” after she challenged the decision to hold the vote by secret ballot.
At this point, student representatives walked out of the meeting in protest.
The new composition of the Board is required to take full effect by September 2012. In the meantime, positions will be gradually phased out throughout the year.