This is one report that won’t collect dust on a shelf.
That was the message from Concordia University administrators at a public forum to discuss a special committee report on the university’s governance (PDF) that was released in mid-June. Concordia interim President and Vice-Chancellor Frederick Lowy told a sceptical, overflow crowd that the hard-hitting report is being embraced by Concordia decision-makers.
“As a member of the board, I would predict that the recommendations affecting the board of directors will be adopted.”
These include a recommendation to reduce the board’s size from 42 to 25 members and to create a special board committee with the power to veto or approve presidential candidates. Recommendations that would enforce the length of the terms in office served by board and senate members are “highly likely” to be implemented, said Dr. Lowy. In the past, the terms have often been extended beyond the sanctioned limit.
“We will resist the temptation to cherry pick – i.e., only enacting those recommendations that happen to please us – recognizing that we would not select the same ones as everyone else,” said Dr. Lowy. “The report as a whole has to be taken seriously.”
In response to pointed comments at the forum from a Concordia history student, who said he worried that the report would be “written down, duly noted, then sealed up in a binder somewhere,” Dr. Lowy said the board of governors has adopted a motion supporting the report and the senate steering committee has also shown strong approval. Some of the recommendations, he said, may be implemented as early as this fall.
The report was produced, after a 60-day consultation period, by a three-person external governance review committee and released June 15. Headed by former McGill Principal Bernard Shapiro, the committee included Glen Jones, an expert on university governance from the University of Toronto, and former Quebec lobbying commissioner André C. Coté.
The committee was struck by Dr. Lowy in response to the abrupt departures of two Concordia presidents in succession, both about halfway through their terms. Judith Woodsworth left last December, and Claude Lajeunesse in 2008. Subsequently, former president Dr. Lowy was asked to come out of retirement, and took on the interim job last February.
Many observers believe that Presidents Woodsworth and Lajeunesse had come into conflict with the board of directors.
The governing body bore the brunt of criticism at Tuesday’s public meeting. Political science student Gene Morrow said that “when 31 [of the report’s] 38 recommendations are aimed at the board, it’s pretty clear that there’s a problem.” Sociology and anthropology professor Daniel Dagenais said that the board “treats the president as its employee.” Several audience members decried a “culture of contempt.” The report’s authors had used the phrase “adversarial culture” to describe internal strife at Concordia.
Others, perhaps encouraged by Dr. Lowy’s optimism, said that the fruits of the report could be beneficial and could ease tensions. “If there is a spirit of good will, this report has a lot of potential,” said Christopher Ross, a professor in the John Molson School of Business and a member of the senate steering committee.
Rita De Santis, chair of the board’s ad hoc committee on governance, said the board “is going in a direction which is aligned with the majority of the recommendations.” In an interview following the forum, she confirmed that the board will reduce its numbers as recommended, and is very likely to implement most or all of the report’s recommendations. Board members who have stayed past the length of their term are expected to step down.
Other key recommendations include measures to strengthen the senate and an amendment to Concordia’s charter to redefine its governing structure and restate its mission. The latter would require consultations with the Quebec National Assembly. The committee report also directed the board not to get involved with day-to-day management of the university, which it said can undermine the office of the president.