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So much for being innovative

by The Concordian October 4, 2011

Graphic by Katie Brioux

Last Wednesday, Concordia’s Board of Governors, the highest governing body at the university, voted 27-7 to adopt a recommendation that will reduce the BoG from 40 to 25 seats as of July 1, 2012. In the process, the board also voted to reduce undergraduate student representation from four to one, as well as adding a second “alternate” student governor who will have speaking rights only.
This decision is a total slap in the face to undergraduate students, who represent the largest faction of the campus community, and goes against the board’s own goals of increasing transparency and accountability within Concordia’s flawed governance structure.
As was made clear in a letter sent by student governors to the Board’s ad hoc governance committee in August, the recommendation stemming from both the committee and the Shapiro Report does not properly reflect the sheer number of voices that student governors represent at the Board level. The letter indicated that should the Board want to maintain the current level of undergraduate representation, “theoretically there would be 3.125 student representatives, or one student for every 14,000 students.”
The majority of BoG members didn’t listen, to the surprise of no one. Because BoG chair Peter Kruyt called for a secret ballot vote on the composition recommendations—not a very transparent move—it is difficult to really know the identity of the two governors who voted alongside the four undergraduate governors and one graduate student governor in opposing the recommendation.
Prior to the vote, the ad hoc governance committee’s chair Me Rita de Santis described how her committee had “elegantly” come with a solution to the undergrad representation dilemma by providing undergrads with one undergrad governor and one “alternate.”
Directing her comments to the student governors sitting at the same table, de Santis told them “your voice is not going down by that much,” and reminded them that by shrinking the board’s size and ultimately student representation, Concordia’s board of governors will be on par with similar bodies at other Canadian universities.
But what exactly is so great about that? Concordia’s own mission statement, easily found on its website, says that the institution “is one of Canada’s most innovative and diverse, comprehensive universities.” Since when does doing what everyone else is doing make a university innovative? The glowing statement on the website further reads that “early in the new millennium, the world faces extraordinary challenges—ones that are already generating big thinking at Concordia.” Clearly the “big thinking” ideal does not apply to the Board of Governors and its own set of “challenges.”
During last Wednesday’s meeting, external governor Lillian Vineberg, who finally saw fit to step down after 17 years on the Board, said that students should not be so concerned over losing voices, because “all” governors ultimately represent the interests of all members of the campus community, including students. If this were indeed the case and all governors were actually listening to students’ concerns, perhaps the BoG would not have been in such a hurry to dole out severance packages totalling $2 million to ousted Concordia presidents Claude Lajeunesse and Judith Woodsworth, which is what really got the Board into so much trouble in the first place. Something for Vineberg and her former colleagues on the Board to think about.
But regardless if the undergrads have one governor, four governors, or 10 governors, it has become more than obvious that there is very little respect for them on the Board, at least where the chair, Peter Kruyt, is concerned. The chair has the authority to call on governors to speak, but also to silence them, and it was usually the latter action that Kruyt employed throughout last Wednesday’s meeting when student governors tried to speak up.
First of all, it is heartening to see that this year’s group of student governors—Laura Beach, AJ West, Cameron Monagle, and Lex Gill for the undergrads and Erik Chevrier for the grads—is much more vocal at the board level than their predecessors, and truly did their best to sway the Board’s decision on composition.
But while Kruyt may see them differently, the five students mentioned above are still governors, and that title earns them the same respect and time at the microphone afforded to their much older colleagues. Rita de Santis in particular spoke for nearly an hour, never once interrupted by the chair. But when it came to student governors, they were cut off, told to “keep it short” or, in at least one instance, had their microphone turned off.
Throughout last year, students—again, the largest faction of the campus community—saw themselves shut out of important contract negotiations, kept in the dark about the payment of severance packages to fired administrators and essentially told their opinion did not carry much weight.
With the Shapiro Report’s 38 recommendations on reforming governance at Concordia, released last June, there was for a time a slight glimmer of hope that the university was on its way to healing old wounds and that maybe students would finally be given a more active role in the running of the university.
But with the vote cast at last Wednesday’s Board of Governors meeting, it is clear that not much has changed within Concordia’s administration. If anything, the situation has become much worse. Maybe it is time to update the mission statement.

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