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Concordia students lose seats on board of governors

by The Concordian September 29, 2011

Concordia University is a step closer to reforming its bloated board of governors; but in taking that step, it has reduced students’ presence on the highest university body, and that has student reps crying foul.

At a heated meeting on Sept. 28, the number of seats was cut from 40 to 25 in a 27-7 secret ballot vote on an omnibus series of recommendations.

“I think it’s a dark day for Concordia. Students have been disempowered,” said undergraduate student governor Laura Beach. “Other voices on the board have also been silenced.”

Undergraduate students currently hold four positions on the board, with one seat representing graduate students. As of July 1, 2012, one person will represent each group, with a third “alternate” who can replace the undergraduate governor in case they are absent. This student will only have speaking rights at meetings of the full board, but will have a vote at the committee level. Retired staff and faculty have also lost their one seat on the board.

“In both cases, there was absolutely no adequate justification or motivation provided,” said Beach.

“There’s a complete disrespect for the process,” said undergraduate representative Cameron Monagle, who lamented the lack of prior consultation and the fact that the motion bypassed the university’s senate. “It’s disappointing because we’re going to be fighting this battle for a long time, and it’s really time for Concordia to turn the page.”

Though students make up the largest group at Concordia, they are outnumbered by other groups on the board. On the new board, full-time and part-time faculty will have five and one representatives, respectively, while staff have one member.

The new board makeup will include 15 external and 10 internal members, and two vice-chairs, each representing one group.

Cutting down on the number of governors was one of the recommendations made by the board’s ad hoc committee on governance, which agreed with the findings of the Shapiro Report, which was released last June by a three-person external review committee.

Concordia has been embroiled in controversy since its president, Judith Woodsworth, was fired in late December 2010. At the time, it was reported that she had left for “personal reasons,” but it was soon apparent she had been let go by the board. Woodsworth’s dismissal came just a few years after her predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, also left amid negative circumstances.

While the university celebrated Thursday’s reforms, students see it as a sign that things are not getting better.

“I think what we realized today is that the governance crisis at Concordia isn’t going away, and that’s disappointing,” said Monagle. “Because this was an opportunity to turn the page and to start afresh and to really address the issues that have been plaguing this university.”

Lex Gill, a governor and president of the Concordia Student Union, agreed. “These guys are ostensibly attempting to fix governance issues at the university and are replicating the same dynamics of power and marginalization that was the problem in the first place,” she said. “You talk about contempt, and evidently, there’s still contempt for students.”

Board chair Peter Kruyt, who announced he will be stepping down next June, was not made available for comment after the meeting. But in a release put out by the university shortly afterwards, he said, “The changes approved today will result in a more effective and engaged Board of Governors.”

Interim president Frederick Lowy echoed Kruty in an interview, saying, “This is the most recent and very important step in a long road we began last winter. […] There was clearly a need to improve communication within [the university] and [restore a sense of purpose and morale].”

The Sept. 28 meeting was held over a tense two hours. Students attempted to bypass the reduction motion by asking to separate the measure from the omnibus motion and to deliberate it at a later date. Another amendment was made to increase the proposed student representation; both failed.

The students at the meeting said Kruyt was dismissive of students’ concerns at each turn. They pressed for an open vote when Kruyt announced the process would be by secret ballot. When asked for the motivation behind a secret ballot vote, he declined to explain, looking visibly frustrated.

“I just think that the general outlook of the chair and the way he conducted himself demonstrates very clearly how they respect us on the board: they really don’t,” said Erik Chevrier, the graduates’ representative. “They are now decreasing student representation, and at the same time, it seems they don’t really want us to talk at the meeting. So I think the general outlook is that they don’t really want us there.”

The five students left the meeting in protest after the vote, shortly before the meeting ended.

Elsewhere in Quebec, McGill University’s board has 25 members, with one undergraduate and one graduate. Bishop’s University has a 17-member board with one student representative.

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