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Too soon to talk money troubles: President Woodsworth

By Archives March 4, 2008

Voted in last week, Concordia’s new president Judith Woodsworth is already fielding questions about the university’s financial situation.
When asked how she would handle the university’s $400 million dollar long-term debt, Woodsworth admits she’s not yet fully plugged in. “I have to go and sit down with the finance people and board members. There will be a fundraising campaign, a formal one, and it may be possible to pay down that debt through the fundraising.”
As president she vows to promote the university to companies and foundations. “Most of the donors that I’ve dealt with, once they decide that they’re going to commit money to an educational cause, are very proud of that contribution. So it’s very important for the president to be part of that, to make them feel proud and make them feel that they’re leaving behind a legacy.”
When Woodsworth takes over in August, she’ll have to deal with Concordia’s budget deficit. She has another deficit to worry about first at Laurentian University, her previous place of employment. “We’re trying to plan the budget for next year,” she said. “And in working through our preliminary figures it’s not looking good, it looks like we may have a deficit, but we are looking at ways that we can bring that number down to zero . . . we have until June to do our final budget.” She points out that Laurentian and Concordia are not alone. “Quebec universities, Ontario universities, all of them are facing big challenges, costs are going up, and governments are not contributing what we hoped.”
While she suggested that budget cuts could be part of the solution for both schools, changes need to be made to the way universities are funded. “Something has to be done to improve the situation, the students don’t contribute very much to the cost of education, and the government is not contributing enough. Perhaps students need to contribute more, or the government has to contribute more.”
Last year Woodsworth increased tuition at Laurentian by four per cent. A decision she said came as a result of government pressure. The Ontario government lifted a tuition freeze last year and opened the door so universities could raise tuition by up to four and a half per cent for most programs, and up to eight per cent for others. “The feeling we get is that if we hadn’t increased it by that much, the government would say, ‘well you obviously don’t need the money so we’ll decrease your grant.'”
When asked why she chose to leave Laurentian University before her contract came to completion, Woodsworth said “I could have waited until the end of the five years and then looked around for another job. But I wasn’t interested in just another job . . . I was interested because it was a place that I knew well and I felt some loyalty to. It wasn’t just any job; it was Concordia and Montreal that drew me back. Montreal is more home than any place I’ve lived.”
One area she said she’s looking forward to is to work on the relationship between Concordia’s board of governors and its senate. She hopes to clarify the responsibilities of both bodies and improve communications between them.