After refusing to make any statements on the Dec. 22 resignation of Judith Woodsworth as Concordia University’s president and vice-chancellor, Board of Governors chair Peter Kruyt finally broke the silence in a 953-word message to the Concordia community that in the end, revealed little about the reasons for her departure.
The statement said that Woodsworth made her decision to resign following discussions with the BoG in December, in the midst of positive change and development at Concordia. The letter was released by email and on the online MyConcordia student portal Monday evening.
Kruyt said that Woodsworth and the BoG “respect confidentiality agreements in conducting the business of the university” and the BoG is committed to an ongoing 18-month review of “governance issues.” He dismissed suggestions that Woodsworth was forced out because of “misuse of funds on her part or by her husband” as “simply untrue” and “irresponsible speculation.”
The letter comes as several members of the community have voiced dissatisfaction during the first week of classes following the winter holidays.
The Concordia University Faculty Association spokesperson Lucie Lequin released a statement that thrashed the university on Jan. 4. The departure, she said, is not an isolated event. Lequin called Woodsworth and predecessor Claude Lajeunesse’s severance packages “golden parachutes,” which came in at $700,000 and $1 million respectively. CUFA has announced a special meeting on Jan. 17 for its members to discuss action.
A letter currently circulating is calling for a “thorough and public review of the governing structures of Concordia University, with particular attention to the constitution and the powers of the Board of Governors.” The letter is signed by 180 lecturers and academics.
CSU president and BoG member Heather Lucas said in an email that “students have felt outraged by the exorbitant amount she’s receiving, especially with tuition on the rise.”
Critics have maintained that the nature of the BoG is corporate and not working in the best interests of the university. “It is morally reprehensible that we have a Board of Governors that continues to spin and manipulate messages about its decisions,” said Maria Peluso, a political science professor and president of the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association. With 24 members of the BoG coming from corporate backgrounds, she thinks that the body is not diverse enough, and that it could use more nurses, social workers and union leaders, for example.
In an interview with CTV news last week, Woodsworth said she was “shocked” by the news, and that she had been asked to step down. The university’s initial statement said Woodsworth left for “personal reasons’ while rumours persisted that she had been asked to leave.
A member of the BoG, speaking off the record, confirmed Woodsworth’s comments that she had lost the confidence of some of the members. They then added, “However, she did choose to resign as she could have stood up to the board and stayed if she wanted to.”
Woodsworth declined to speak to the Concordian, saying “I am not speaking to the media about my situation right now. There are enough people talking about it.” The statement was made Friday, after she had spoken to both CTV and the Globe and Mail.
A Ministry of Education spokesperson declined to make any comment, saying that Concordia is an “autonomous organization” and that the government would not be making any interventions.
An email has been circulated to the BoG asking for suggestions for interim president. Kruyt said that the search committee will be reviewing the candidates this week and will make recommendations.
Currently, VP external relations Bram Freedman is acting president until the interim president is announced for a 12 to 18 month term.
What they’re saying:
“…Dr. Woodsworth made the decision to resign. Some have suggested that Dr. Woodsworth’s departure is related to the misuse of funds on her part or by her husband. This is simply untrue and is unfair and irresponsible speculation.”
“We keep hearing, over and over again, that the university is underfunded. But they manage to dig up money for this. So that’s kind of a slap in the face to students.”
– Holly Nazar, Free Education Montreal spokesperson, GSA councillor and graduate student
“They hire these people on corporate contracts, and if they don’t like them, they pay them off. […] The research in public administration says this: when you impose a corporate model on public administrations, they all fail. Why are they ignoring that reality?”
– Maria Peluso, CUPFA president
“We have to take back our university so that it remains a university dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and not to more concrete and more bureaucratic clichÃ©-mongering. We do value new buildings, but they will never constitute a university.”
Timeline: A rocky road for Concordia presidents
Aug. 1, 2005 &- Installed for a five-year term as president of Concordia University.
Aug. 10, 2006 &- Martin Singer tenders his resignation as provost. In a press release, Singer praised Lajeunesse, saying he had “full confidence in [his] leadership.”
February 2007 &- Lajeunesse was a notable supporter of lifting the tuition freeze, saying it was necessary to better the quality of Quebec universities.
Oct. 31 2007 &- Following a “mutual agreement” between him and the Board of
Governors, Claude Lajeunesse steps down less than half way through his contract and leaves with a severance package of close to $1.4 million.
1980 &- Judith Woodsworth begins a 17-year teaching career at Concordia’s dÃ©partement
Aug. 1 2008 &- Installed as President and Vice-chancellor for a term ending June 30, 2013. The Board of Governors praised Woodsworth for her “effectiveness and excellent communication skills.”
November 2009 &- Receives heat from students and faculty after stating that the American model of tuition, where students pay a flat rate, would be good for Concordia.
September 2010 &- Woodsworth loses two VPs when chief fundraising whiz VP Advancement and Alumni Relations Kathy Assayag steps down for “personal reasons” and VP Services Michael Di Grappa leaves to take up a position at McGill.
November 2010 &- Accused before a labour relations tribunal of charging personal expenses to the university.
Dec. 22, 2010 &- The university issues a press release stating that Woodsworth had stepped down for “personal reasons.”