MONTREAL (CUP) — After walking away in late 2010 from the top position at Concordia University with just over $700,000 in severance pay, it turns out that former president Judith Woodsworth has been quietly teaching at the university since the start of the winter semester.
This time, she’s not returning to the executive offices on the upper floors of the administration GM building, but to an office on the sixth floor of the McConnell building where the études françaises department is located. Twice a week, Woodsworth heads to the new MB building, where she teaches two small 400-level courses on translation.
“I am fundamentally an academic,” Woodsworth said in a phone interview with Canadian University Press when asked why she would return to Concordia after her dismissal. “I felt that the academic life was something that was really very much a part of me, and I wanted to come back and continue where I left off when I left Concordia 14 years ago.”
Returning to Concordia in 2008 as president was like a “homecoming,” said Woodsworth, though she lasted only two and a half years as president. “It wasn’t all smooth when I came back, but I feel still that this is a place where I belong. Some people might find it strange, but they’re focusing on the wrong things, maybe,” she suggested.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp told a reporter on Feb. 1 that she had asked Concordia for more information, saying she’d like to know the circumstances for her return.
“Yesterday, when I saw the news, I asked for certain explanations,” Beauchamp said. “Phone calls were made.”
Concordia spokesperson Cléa Desjardins confirmed that on Jan. 31, “senior officials at Concordia were in touch with the office of Minister Beauchamp and answered their questions on the subject of Judith Woodsworth’s return to the university.” The minister’s office could not be reached for comment.
In the last year, while on unpaid leave, Woodsworth updated her book on the history of translation and travelled to Africa as a consultant to university bodies in Ghana and Kenya. She notified Concordia she was ready to return to teaching over the summer.
Woodsworth’s dismissal raised the ire of students, staff, alumni and the public when she was let go under mysterious circumstances a few days before Christmas in 2010.
Her severance package raised eyebrows about university funding, since Woodsworth had requested, with other university leaders, that the provincial government raise tuition fees. Tuition fee increases in Quebec will begin in fall 2012.“I realize that it doesn’t sit well when people think of their individual costs when tuition goes up,” said Woodsworth, who nevertheless added that it is “normal” to receive compensation when contracts are terminated, and that her predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, left with a larger severance package in hand.
The dismissal of two presidents within a few years stirred up outrage, with media nationwide taking note. Last summer, three external investigators released the Shapiro report, the full cost of which came to about $78,000. The investigation condemned Concordia’s governance, saying the university needed to overcome a “culture of contempt.”
But is it okay for Woodsworth to be teaching students after being fired as president?
“The university obviously thinks it’s perfectly appropriate. Like all academic administrators, Dr. Woodsworth received an academic appointment when she was hired on as president,” said Desjardins, “so she just took up that opportunity after that relationship was terminated.”
The reaction on campus to the return of a former administrator has been minimal.
“The two jobs are not connected,” said Maria Peluso, president of the Part-time Faculty Association, who pointed out that academics frequently return to teaching positions after their time as administrators. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”
Lex Gill, president of the Concordia Student Union, agreed: “The reality is, being a university professor is different than being an administrator,” she said. “I just don’t understand why she would want to come back.”
Erik Chevrier, a representative of the Graduate Students’ Association on the Board of Governors, said Woodsworth’s departure raised questions about the school’s transparency.
“We tried to address this by putting in transparent measures in a series of proposals […] and all of them, last meeting, every single one of them, was shot down,” he said.
The suggested measures included filming board meetings and increasing seating space for the audience.
“That’s more of a concern for me — since her departure, since they let her go, they’re really not looking [at making governance more open],” said Chevrier.
A casual survey of students milling around the Webster Library downtown showed some students were unaware of who Woodsworth is. The ones who had heard about it were not concerned.
“If we don’t really know the whole story [about the dismissal], it’s not bad that she came back,” said history student Mara Stancana.
“It doesn’t affect my daily life at school. The goings-on of the administration doesn’t change anything for me,” said Mohamed Azab, an English student.
Woodsworth said she misses meeting a variety of people in her previous position, but that she won’t be seeking any administrative positions any time soon.
While Woodsworth has dropped hints in the past that she was forced out of her position, she indicated that she would not discuss the details of her dismissal because of a non-disclosure agreement.