Editorial: Think very carefully about those public funds

Those who argue against tuition increases say they will only succeed in plummeting students further into debt, while those in favour of the hike say the extra money is desperately needed to improve the quality of education and research in Quebec’s universities.

But as the general strike continues at Concordia, what all stakeholders need to take into account is this: universities probably already have enough money to function properly, they’re just not using the cash in the most efficient way.

Exhibit A: the $1.4 million interest free loan issued by Concordia to its very gracious interim president, Frederick Lowy. The loan was granted so that Lowy would be able to purchase a residence outside of Montreal that he had already laid eyes on before accepting to come back to Concordia as its faithful and wise leader. The university has said that he will pay it back when he sells his condo later this year. But interest free? We’re talking about $35,000 that Lowy will most definitely not be paying back.

Exhibit B: the numerous severance packages that Concordia has dished out without a care since 2007 (or probably even before that). One of the most notable packages was of course the $703,500 forked over to Judith Woodsworth when she was so unceremoniously given the boot by Concordia’s Board of Governors in December 2010. Others include former vice-president advancement and alumni relations Kathy Assayag, who made off with a cool $700,000 for her troubles. And let’s not forget Woodsworth’s predecessor Claude Lajeunesse, who got the hell out of here in 2007 with $1.3 million in his pockets — so much for disgruntled.

Exhibit C: the freakishly massive paycheques that Concordia’s senior administrators get the joy of cashing. Lowy alone makes $350,000 (more than the Premier of Quebec, not that he deserves a whole of dough in the first place), while many other senior vice-presidents and their minions in the university’s bloated bureaucracy earn well into the six-figure salary range. No tightening of the belts or counting of the pennies for this lot.

Exhibit D: wondrous expense accounts that don’t really have any limits set in stone on how much you can be reimbursed. That is, if you’re someone like Frederick Lowy, who can fly business class if the flight lasts a certain number of hours (about $4,000 to Victoria, B.C. last year, for example). What about putting some of this money toward financial aid? How dare you even suggest that to a senior administrator, they have far more pressing issues to think about, like jet lag and flowers for the Loyola office they never visit.

Concordia has certainly tried to improve its image when it comes to the management of public funds. The university will hire external auditors to review severance packages handed out to former senior employees. The auditors will hopefully tell the Board of Governors what the rest of us have been saying all along: you messed up.

The education minister may think she’s done the whole province a favour by punishing Concordia with a $2 million fine, but it’s doubtful that even that will be much of a wake-up call for the administration.

No, what’s needed is for all students to realize that the money already being disbursed to universities such as Concordia is being put in all the wrong places. So when students march this Thursday in a province-wide protest against tuition hikes, hopefully they will remember the loan, the severance packages, the cushy salaries and the expense accounts, and then remind the government that universities are places of learning, not banks.


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