It’s time to work away from “culture of contempt”

The previous academic year was certainly one of the most memorable in Concordia’s 37-year history, but for all the wrong reasons.
It was a year marked by the words “transparency” and “accountability,” words that were so overused in countless press releases that, at least for now, they probably mean next to nothing to the average Concordia student.
It was a year that saw two Concordia vice-presidents depart, one president get sacked, and saw a once little-known governing body known as the Board of Governors gain massive notoriety.
The December ousting of Concordia president Judith Woodsworth by the BoG sparked a chain reaction of events, from which the university is still reeling at this very moment.
Two months after her firing, the external review committee on governance was formed to tackle what the committee itself would later term a “culture of contempt” at Concordia.
While the committee’s full cost is a whole other topic that is certainly worth debating – the final price sits at close to $78,000 – the committee did manage, within its mandate of 60 days, to put forward 38 recommendations that proposed a major overhaul of the Board of Governors, the Senate, and the Office of the President.
While most of the recommendations were widely praised by groups including the CSU, the Faculty Association, and the Part-Time Association, the ERCG’s report’s fate now lies in the hands of the governing body from which this PR fiasco exploded from in the first place.
The Board of Governors is set to discuss in detail what action in might take on the ERCG’s recommendations at its September meeting. Over the summer, its ad hoc committee on governance, which includes as its members BoG chair Peter Kruyt and Concordia interim president Fred Lowy, held meetings to go over the recommendations and to discuss what it will present to the full Board as appropriate recommendations going forward.
While the ad hoc committee’s chair, Me Rita DeSantis, did promise that her committee would be moving “very quickly” on the ERCG’s report, it remains to be seen if the BoG will do the same. The Board has certainly not been very receptive to calls for change in the past. Motion after motion was put forward last year by all Concordia stakeholders – students, faculty, and staff – for the BoG’s external members who have overstayed their terms, including Kruyt, to go. Instead, they chose to go against the will of the campus community and kept their seats. Will this time be any different?
If the BoG truly believes in what is good for Concordia, it would endorse some of the committee members’ most powerful recommendations: reduce the number of BoG seats (the ERCG called large boards “problematic”), strictly enforce two, four-year terms for BoG members, enable the Senate to become the supreme governing body with regards to academic affairs, and empower the office of the president, notably allowing the title holder to develop a clear academic plan.
It has become clear that something needs to be done. Local and national media have seized on the governance issue at Concordia this past year, unfortunately shadowing any good news that may have come out of the university in the meantime. The Board not only has to act on the ERCG’s recommendations to bring Concordia back to a credible position on the national stage, but also to fix its own “credibility gap” on campus, as described in the ERCG’s report.
But while the BoG and Senate mull over the report recommendations, there is one in particular that should be given special attention, and that is the recommendation concerning student representation on the BoG.
There are currently five student representatives on the BoG – four undergrads and one graduate student. The ERCG recommends reducing that number to two, most likely one undergrad and one graduate student. At a university where over 30,000 students are undergrads – the largest portion of the campus community – it is unreasonable and unacceptable to have that same group represented by a lone representative on the BoG.
The undergraduate and the graduate students have proven to be incredibly vocal this past year on major issues, including tuition hikes and calls for more transparency at Concordia. To have their voices practically snuffed out by reducing the number of their representatives on the BoG would be dangerous.
These voices are needed at the BoG to ensure the student population that the top governing body is being kept in check. Because as we’ve seen this past year, somebody has to do it.

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