Since taking office in February, Concordia’s interim president Frederick Lowy has been reimbursed for over $9,000 in airfare, $4,000 in car expenses, and almost $3,000 in hotel rooms.
These numbers, taken from his expense report obtained by The Concordian through an access to information request, are not that surprising to Concordia Student Union president Lex Gill, who describes Lowy’s thousands of dollars in reimbursements as “business as usual.”
“It’s actually a little better than what I would have expected, but we all know that senior administration at this university is notorious for wasteful spending,” she said. “I’m more interested in the expenses that aren’t here. What is the university buying on his behalf, like golf memberships and cocktails?”
The reimbursement forms, all approved by chair of the Board of Governors Peter Kruyt except for one, show that over the past nine months, Lowy has made plane trips to destinations including Toronto, New York, Victoria, and Italy.
Although the details in the report are fairly vague and all names except for Lowy’s have been erased, the forms show that Lowy’s trip to Victoria was for meetings of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, while the New York flight was for “alumni meetings” and the May 21 Italian visit a “professional trip” where Lowy was invited to “speak at a conference.”
The April 1 flight to Victoria alone cost $3,928.14, as the decision was made to upgrade Lowy’s flight to business class. While university spokesperson Chris Mota indicated that as per Lowy’s contract he is entitled to fly business class on flights lasting more than three hours, Gill said the expense sent the message that Lowy, who also receives a salary of $350,000 a year, was “out of touch with students.”
“When you spend almost $4,000, more than an individual student’s tuition bill for the year, on a flight, especially when it’s a needlessly expensive flight, and then you go to the government and you support tuition increases, I think that’s disingenuous,” she said.
The Italian visit especially piqued Gill’s curiosity. Mota said on Monday that Lowy was invited to speak on university governance at the University of Siena, located in the Tuscan city of Siena.
“This has since resulted in discussions between the two universities about future collaborations,” she wrote in an email, indicating that while in Italy, Lowy, who is a psychiatrist, also attended a conference on psychoanalysis.
The round trip plane ticket to Italy came to $1,951, while hotel costs came in at a little over $1,500 during Lowy’s stay, which also saw him spend time in Rome and Florence. The trip lasted from May 20 to May 29 according to the expense report.
Lowy was also reimbursed on at least two occasions where the receipt was missing: $34 for a meal in Italy and $10.50 for parking. This despite the fact that his hiring contract explicitly states that when being reimbursed for expenses related to university work, a receipt must be provided.
Mota responded that “there is the expectation that receipts be provided in order to be reimbursed. In cases where a receipt can’t be produced, some flexibility can be exercised. We are willing to take people at their word provided the amount is small, the reasons are plausible and there is no pattern or regularity to this.”
“I wonder what the accounting department of the university thinks about that,” said Gill. “I know here [at the CSU] I couldn’t claim $68 without a receipt and get away with that. We’re all very well aware that Fred Lowy is not hurting for money, so I have a feeling that he has no interest in committing small scale requisition fraud.”
According to Lowy’s contract, the university president also receives a $3,000 monthly housing allowance. When he assumed his position, the university granted him a $1.4 million loan, interest free during the loan’s term, in order to purchase a new condo Lowy was already about to buy outside of Montreal when he was asked to return to Concordia as interim president.
Lowy, who was rector of the university between 1995 and 2005, was asked to return in early 2011 after the Board of Governors ousted president Judith Woodsworth. Lowy’s contract stipulates that he must repay the loan after his term ends and after the sale of his current condo in Montreal.
Lowy furthermore receives a $1,200 monthly car allowance, which is “meant to cover gasoline and depreciation on the vehicle, and which he receives as part of his regular salary payments,” according to Mota.
In response to a question about the expenses Lowy charged to the university regarding repairs to his car, Mota explained that “he is entitled to claim expenses related to the vehicle (except for gasoline) such as for repairs and maintenance. There is no fixed limit on these amounts but, of course, the person authorizing the expenses has to be satisfied that they are reasonable.”
After glancing at the numbers in Lowy’s expense report, Gill admitted that there is very little that could surprise her when it comes to the finances of the university.
“The killer thing is that there’s so much great stuff coming out of this school, and there’s so much waste,” she said. “The university is constantly crying that we’re underfunded. Just manage your books properly.”