Being president of a university as large and as diverse as Concordia is no easy task. Despite the challenges which lay ahead for new Vice-Chancellor Alan Shepard, he said he views Concordia as a progressive university despite a troubled history.
“It’s Concordia’s time,” said the former provost of Ryerson University. “We have a very bright future.”
On Aug. 1, Shepard replaced interim president Frederick Lowy and began his five-year mandate. Though he insists that he has no grand plan and no ultimate overhaul in terms of changes for Concordia, the new president plans to focus on what the university community wants to change. Revisions and adjustments, he said, will be based on what administration, faculty and students demand.
“Concordia has a lot of strengths,” Shepard explained. “You try to find ways to engage the university community to see where it wants to go.”
Concordia Student Union President Schubert Laforest said several challenges await Shepard in the years ahead.
“There’s the ever present issue of the management of the university, how funds are allocated, the university being under scrutiny from all sides of the media and from students,” said Laforest. “There is bridging the gap between students and administration.”
According to Laforest, Shepard is also faced with the task of governing a university that’s often questioned for its controversial administration salaries, severance packages and spending.
In December 2010, Judith Woodsworth abruptly left her position as university president with a severance package of approximately $700,000. Her predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, completed only two years of a five-year contract and left Concordia with more than $1-million as a parting gift.
In March 2012, Concordia was slapped with a $2-million fine from previous Education Minister Line Beauchamp due to the mismanagement of funds. Beauchamp reprimanded the institution for “a lack of control” at the administrative level and her concern for the number of people leaving senior positions.
“Something has to give, we have opposing views of what’s going on,” reiterated Laforest. “We need to have an honest discussion about the matter.”
President Shepard stated that “the university’s reputation is important, it matters deeply…but we’re very well-managed, we’re well-managed fiscally.”
Last summer, the External Governance Review Committee released a report stating differently. The report provides recommendations to strengthen governance and internal relations at Concordia while scrutinizing the current climate at the university. The committee criticized Concordia for “a culture of contempt” and “spectacularly unsuccessful appointments of the last two presidents.”
As the election draws nearer, Shepard awaits changes that have the potential to set the tone for the entire semester. Shepard said he believes the results of the upcoming election will ultimately decide which direction the student movement will take. That said, he welcomes students who are so politically involved.
“Keeping a cool head matters,” Shepard said. “But so is allowing people to express themselves.”