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Senate left out in the cold

by Archives January 22, 2008

A new report being circulated by the Provincial Government is stirring up discontent in Concordia’s senate. The senators fear that Concordia’s highest level of governance may shift away from academic interests to “independents” – if the university chooses to implement recommendations from Quebec’s top university executives. A process they say is already happening.
The “Report of the Working Group on University Governance,” was drafted in September by highly-placed officials from several Quebec universities, including former Concordia President Claude Lajeunesse, the principal of McGill and the chancellor of the Université de Montréal.
The report provides 12 “principles” that they feel will improve the way the province’s universities are run. The minister of education has passed the report on to all of Quebec’s universities for comment before the province decides how, or if, to implement it. But many Concordia senators say the document is too vague and fear that it will continue what they see as an ongoing shift in the balance of power – away from the senate, the university’s highest academic body – and into the hands of the board of governors. While the senate consists of professors and a handful of students, the board of governors is comprised mostly of people from the community who do not necessarily have affiliations to the university.
The report’s “principles” include calling for greater transparency and for universities to have a clear mission. It also provides suggestions on how the top level of university governance – boards of directors – should be structured.
Api Hamalian, a teacher in Concordia’s department of education, said that while she agreed with some of the principles proposed in the document, she’s worried that it “promotes concentration of power in the hands of what it defines as ‘independent people.'” Independent board members are defined by the document as people who are not staff or students of the university, but those who sit on its board of directors. She said that the report, “goes against the best principles of management.” She said that it doesn’t make sense for the university to be run by outsiders instead of the “shareholders,” such as students and faculty.
“We all know that at Concordia we have an issue with governance where academics say little in the governance process,” said Juan Segovia, who teaches at the John Molson School of Business. He questioned whether the senate should even discuss the report, for fear that a discussion would legitimize it.
In fact, not a single senator at the meeting last week spoke in favour of the report. While some senators did agree with some principles – such as a requirement that university boards implement a three-year term limit on their members – they questioned whether these recommendations would actually be implemented. According to political science professor, Maria Peluso, some members of Concordia’s board have held their seats for 19 years. “It’s a joke, we’ve lost total control of the decision-making process at this university,” said Peluso.
Nabil Esmail, Dean of the faculty of engineering, said that if the report’s recommendation for a smaller board with 60 per cent representation from outside the university, was implemented, there would be only eight members of the board representing Concordia’s staff, students and faculty.
However, David Graham, Dean of arts and science, said that on Concordia’s current board only 13 members, or 30 per cent, represent the university’s staff, students and faculties.
Bradley Nelson, chair of the department of classics, modern languages and linguistics, summed up the lack of representation of students and faculty on the board by comparing the idea of governance with the workings of governments. “If we were to think of Concordia as a government body, then what is interesting about this document is that the citizens of this government find themselves in the minority in making decisions concerning its future, its policies, etc.”
Senate will present their comments on the report to the board of governors, at a special board meeting on Feb. 8. The board will have until Feb. 29 to return their comments to the provincial government.

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