A handful people from outside Concordia University will soon have a chance to independently examine how the university is governed. Concordia’s Board of Governors unanimously passed a motion at its monthly meeting on Feb. 17 to create and support a special review committee set up to evaluate university governance.
The motion was drafted in response to a call by senate members at their January meeting to set up such an external committee to examine “governance structure” in the aftermath of the reported dismissal of president Judith Woodsworth.
BoG members appointed interim president Frederick Lowy, who began his term at the beginning of the month, to work with senate to draft the committee’s mandate. Lowy and the senate steering committee will also make recommendations as to who will sit on the committee. While the BoG motion did not list the number of potential members, Lowy suggested it would be two to three people.
A day later, Concordia’s Senate passed nearly the same motion, approving the establishment of an external governance review committee. The motion in Senate, introduced by Lowy, did undergo a few amendments during the discussion period, however. First, it was amended to specify that the committee be of “at least three members.” Additionally, the Senate steering committee was put in charge of setting, rather than drafting, the mandate and approving, rather than recommending, the membership of said committee. Finally, senators inserted into the motion that at least one of the committee members must be a “current or former faculty member” external to Concordia.
Lowy motivated for the motion in Senate saying “of the issues that have been brought forward, from senate and elsewhere, it seems to me that the most important one, and the one that has engaged so many people in this room, is the issue of governance, and governance in the larger sense including the relationship among the different constituencies, most particularly between the Board of Governors and […] the broader internal community. “
Most of the discussion from senators focused on the actual wording, and as to whether the group of experts should be called a commission or a committee based on the power each word conveys. Ultimately, Lowy said the wording didn’t matter because the committee would not be given a mandate beyond what Senate expected of them. The title made no difference because the university would retain all the power to implement, or not implement recommendations. He said that they were not looking for a group “to tell us how to run the university, but give advice with which they’re free to take or not to take within our existing channels,” and that even if they cannot force action, he expects “their work will have major moral suasion.”
BoG chair Peter Kruyt was not present at the Thursday meeting, and was replaced by vice-chair Jonathan Wener. Lowy addressed some of the criticism that has been levelled at Kruyt in recent months in his first president’s report to the BoG. “There’s a general feeling of victimization; a sense that something bad is being done to us, and this, surprisingly, goes across the board, from the Board of Governors and its members, on the one hand, to just about every academic sector, including students.”
And the blame, said Lowy, has come to rest with the chair. “Peter becomes almost a scapegoat, in the symbolic fashion. This maybe the current situation, at least that’s the way I’ve come to see it, but it’s clearly not an answer to any basic problems that we have in governance.” These problems, he added, have to be examined “very well.”
Later on in the meeting, Jean Freed, an observer on behalf of the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association, decried the apparent assigning of blame to Kruyt and appeared to chastise BoG members who claimed that they were unaware of the decision to replace Woodsworth. “Every board member in this room knew what was going before Dec. 23. Every constituency was represented. Everyone of us had the chance to voice our opinions and to be heard. We cannot lay this just on the leadership.” While the discussion might not have happened at the level of the BoG, she said, it happened in other meetings. “I’m very tired of people pretending they didn’t know. […] If [Kruyt] didn’t have the support of the majority of the board, none of this would have happened.”
Lowy repeated comments he had made previously about needing to repair the rifts in the university in order to move on, but he suggested that Concordia could falter if this does not happen. “We don’t want to [be] one of these institutions that shoots itself in the foot just because that’s the tradition.”