The departure of president Woodsworth this past December left many members of Concordia’s community with a bitter taste and a growing suspicion of the backroom politics employed by the Board of Governors. Faculty members, students and the public alike have shown their displeasure with how the situation was handled and the money that was, simply, not well spent.
Before Woodsworth walked away with a golden parachute, few people knew the intricacies of university administrations and the bloated structure that sits at top calling the shots. Now with the spotlight shining in the afterglow of Woodsworth walking, Concordia’s Board is exposed for what it is: self-interested parties with corporate stakes and little public service.
Forty members make up Concordia’s Board of Governors. Of the 40, a hefty 23 are chosen from the community to serve as members-at-large. The rest of the Board’s roster is filled out by faculty members and students with a great interest in how the university is run. While it is true members-at-large are normally graduates of Concordia, it does not mean that they have an interest in how their alma matter performs on a national scale or even a slight idea of what would be the best for the university.
Led by chairman Peter Kruyt, the president and chief executive officer of Victoria Square Ventures Inc., the 23 members-at-large are overwhelmingly of the past graduate, private interest variety with very few exceptions. Where does that leave Concordia compared to other universities in the grand scheme of administration Boards?
Carleton University boasts a modest 32 member Board, of that 18 of them are picked from the community at large. On paper the Board composition is roughly the same, approximately 57 per cent of the Board is picked from outside the university, the only real difference being Concordia’s inflated amount of Board members. However, when it comes to who sits on the Board the glaring difference emerges.
Leading Carleton’s Board as chancellor is The Right Honourable Herb Gray, a former federal cabinet minister in the Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau governments. With a proven track record of public service, people like Gray are who universities should be courting to take the reigns of Boards. Gisele Samson-Verreault, a former assistant deputy minister, human resources, department of foreign affairs and international trade, follows up as Carleton’s Board chair further driving home the public service image.
When it comes to the make up of the Board the University of Guelph features a slimmed down 24 member Board, which is reasonable considering the school has approximately 20,000 students. But of those 24 members only seven are at large meaning outside interest only has a 30 per cent stake in the administration of the university. It’s a far cry from the member-at-large majority that makes up Concordia’s Board.
Then what would the perfect Board look like if it were to ever exist?
First and foremost, the Board of Governors should place a high value on public service and strive to find members with a proven track record. A university is a public institution which is funded by public dollars. It is simply common sense for a Board to act in the public interest. With Board members cherrypicked from corporations we are given a Board that only knows the bottom line and motivated by self-interest.
When acting, the Board should pay particular attention to transparency and place a high value on informing the community that they are, after all, serving. Much of the criticism directed at the Board has been for the seemingly endless terms of some members. However, on their website Concordia’s Board of Governors lists the end dates of all of their members’ terms. One glaring piece of information is missing: when they started their term. The lack of information regarding terms served by the Board is just one of many areas transparency could clean up for the better.
One final point of improvement to be considered is the Board’s composition. It’s clear that members-at-large make up a majority that does not always share the universities interest. Concordia needs to trim the Board to a manageable number and lower the amount of members-at-large to ensure that the university truly has a voice when it comes time to speak. Maybe then presidents will be more in tune with the university’s objectives.
The perfect Board of Governors does not exist, and if it did Concordia’s would be far from making the short list. However, with the right changes Concordia might, at the very least, have a functioning Board of Governors representing the public that pays for the university for which they are responsible.