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Concordia makes severance packages public

by The Concordian March 6, 2012
Concordia University is looking to hire an external auditing company to review the millions of dollars spent in severance packages paid to six former employees in the last three years.
President Frederick Lowy announced the decision to hire external auditors in an email sent to faculty and staff last Friday. The decision, adopted by the Board of Governors during a conference call on Friday morning, came after a report revealing the names of five employees who received severance packages since 2009 that total $2.4 million was made public by the university. The BoG published the report on legal advice, following a Journal de Montréal access to information request, The Gazette reported.
Concordia spokesperson Chris Mota said the information was made public in an effort of transparency and was the natural following step in making sure senior hiring was “handled the appropriate way.”
“Dr. Lowy felt it was the right time as he wants to have the process completed before a new president arrives [this summer],” said Mota. ”We already made some changes about how the university recruits administrators, but we really wanted to get an understanding of what the best practices are in this field and that’s what the external auditors will help us with.”
The $2.4 million of severance packages made public do not include the $703,500 former President Judith Woodsworth left with when shown the door halfway through her term in 2010, nor the $1 million paid to her predecessor Claude Lajeunesse, who left in similar circumstances. Mota explained that on top of the severance packages of the five former employees, the auditors will also look at Woodsworth’s, but not Lajeunesse’s.
“A lot of our stakeholders have been asking questions,” said Mota. “There certainly has been a lot of interest in the departures of some senior administrators, internally and externally. That played a role in Dr. Lowy’s decision, but he already had a perspective that it was time to do this.”
An external review of the university’s governing bodies completed in spring 2011 gave positive feedback and saw a large part of the Concordia community rally behind it, Mota said. Lowy is now seeking to implement the same process for human resources-related issues.
The BoG unanimously supported the decision and gave the go-ahead to unlock a $25,000 budget in order to hire the external auditing company.
“I do support the involvement of external auditors,” said student governor AJ West. “I think it’s a necessary step that gives more legitimacy to the process of auditing senior administrator hiring. The $25,000 required for the process is ‘peanuts’ compared to the millions of dollars that were given away in severance.”
West also said that although he was glad some numbers were made public, he did not feel that the university should be praised for following the law and for releasing information that should be released anyway.
“It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t done sooner and that there had to be such a public outcry for it to happen,” he said.
Mota said the company that will provide Concordia University with external auditors has yet to be selected.

Severance packages issued between September 2009 and September 2010 consisted of:
$605,000 to former internal audit director Ted Nowak
$639,000 to former internal assistant audit director Saad Zubair
$700,000 to former vice-president of advancement and alumni affairs Kathy Assayag
$332,000 to former chief financial officer Larry English
$129,000 to former security director Jean Brisebois

The employees, who had six to 30 years of service with the university, all left for mutually agreed reasons, according to the university report.

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