The man we knew too little

Does Claude Lajeunesse like cats or dogs? That’s what I want to know.
You can tell a lot about a person by their animal preference. Perhaps knowing our President’s pet partiality would have told me something about Lajeunesse.
It also might have told something to the 99.9999 per cent of Concordia students who didn’t know much more than his name, that he is a “corporate” kind of guy and that he said he thought students should pay more for their education.
(I’m speculating here, but since he was grilling hot dogs and burgers for orientation this week, maybe he does prefer dogs.)
There’s a lot we didn’t know, don’t know… and a lot we’ll probably never really know about him.
(Unless you grant me that interview, eh Claude? I’m a really good listener. I’ll even drink tea, if you prefer.)
Those in daily contact with him — well, the one person close to him who will talk, university spokesperson Chris Mota — says her soon-to-exit boss is “cordial,” “welcoming,” “calls for advice, returns his emails right away.” He also “shares confidences” and treats her “extremely professionally.”
Of course they have a cordial relationship.
But it’s likely the majority of the student body never got that welcoming vibe from Lajeunesse because chances are, the only time they would have set eyes on him would have be in a press release or the pages of Concordia’s public relations paper, The Journal.
This lack of contact with the student body may not be his fault. After all, someone is paying his salary and maybe they want it that way. Maybe the whole system is flawed.
But let’s be honest here. By and large, Concordia students (and students at Ryerson, where he served for 10 years as President) weren’t that wild about a top-down corporate manager type for a President when he arrived two years ago.
And they became positively livid when Lajeunesse said in an interview with Le Devoir that Quebec university students were a “pampered minority” and that they should be paying way more for their education. Ouch.
I may be sounding arrogant here (since, as of press time, no one had asked me to be on the committee to find Lajeunesse’s replacement) but I believe that when you’re the President of a student body as diverse, as politically outspoken, and as thoroughly complicated as Concordia, you have to be more than just “professional.”
Students don’t want ivory tower academics, they want a man with a face they can place, walking around campus. They don’t care if their President is serving on five boards in the community or fifty, they want to know The Man is looking out for their best interests.
Let the search committee for our next president take note: it would be nice if Concordia hired someone who is approachable, accessible and willing to dialogue. (A dialogue, by the way, is the name we give to a two-way conversation. A series of press releases is not dialogue. Delegating all communication to the press agent is not a dialogue.)
We’re not looking for someone to hold a monthly debate with here, but a little willingness to engage in intelligent discourse about things that really matter to students, like their money, would go an amazingly long way.
Anticipating the time when our school moves away the lack of consultation that has characterized it for the past two years, I’d like to propose a toast. Ladies and Gentlemen of Concordia, would you rise.
May we venture this year into new and uncharted waters, where change comes as a result of open dialogue with all stakeholders and where we all – Board members, President, administration, support staff and students – are moving in the same direction.
Or moving even roughly in the same direction. Maybe we need a sailor this time around rather than a CEO.
Since it turned out that Lajeunesse wasn’t that good at herding cats – a quality essential for CEOs according a 2005 article in The National Post – he probably is a dog person after all.
Claude, we wish you well. We just wish we’d known you better.
Coffee some time? Or do you prefer tea?

*See “CEO skills required to run campus” by Diane Francis, The National Post July 2, 2005, (“CEOs … also must possess a healthy dose of patience, political smarts and an aptitude for herding cats.”)

Tobi Elliott is the former News Editor of The Concordian and is the co-host of The Concordian Hour on CJLO every Monday from 3-4 p.m.

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