Editorial – We really need to talk about Line

Education Minister Line Beauchamp’s decision to fine Concordia $2 million for dishing out $3.1 million in severance packages doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, apart from the minister herself of course.

Last Friday, Peter Kruyt, the chair of Concordia’s Board of Governors, received a letter from Beauchamp indicating that Concordia’s decision to hand out severance packages to six former senior employees, including former president Judith Woodsworth, had “given citizens cause for concern over the proper use of public funds by universities.”

At first glance, one would almost want to pat Beauchamp on the back for a job well done — for once. Finally, the Education Ministry realized that Concordia had become the post-secondary poster child in Quebec for mismanagement of funds (because no other university in the province does that, right?) and that swift action needed to be taken to discipline that anglophone bad boy.

However, it doesn’t really take someone much time to process the fact that the minister is only hurting Concordia by taking money away from it (the $2 million will come out of the university’s 2012-2013 provincial funding) as punishment for shelling out tuition and tax dollars to a few grumbling VPs and one very disgraced president.

How is that an effective way to teach Concordia a lesson? Or to teach any Quebec university a lesson, for that matter. After all, the minister indicated that by sending the letter to Concordia, she was signalling to all universities that public funds are oh-so-precious.

Really, Line, do you honestly want to have a serious, heart-to-heart talk about the proper management of public funds in Quebec’s universities? Because if you do, perhaps you should ponder about the $350,000 salary Concordia gives its interim president, or the fact that the university gave him a $1.4 million interest-free loan for his Montreal condo.

If, Line, you’re really that worried about “giving citizens cause for concern” when it comes to their money, maybe, as Concordia University Faculty Association President Lucie Lequin has suggested, you should look at the hiring contracts of senior university administrations before they are signed. Because let’s face it, not all severance packages are dreamed up on the spot — they came from somewhere.

Or, Line, maybe you should listen to Concordia Student Union Lex Gill, who says that Concordia and the Ministry of Education need to conduct an investigation into the issuing of severance packages and the management of public funds as a whole. I’m sure you would find more than a few surprises that would knock you off your seat in the National Assembly.

But finally, Line, where have you and your predecessors in the education portfolio been these past five years? Where were the Charest Liberals when Claude Lajeunesse was leaving Concordia halfway through his presidential term in 2007 with a $1.3 million severance package? Where were you when Judith Woodsworth walked off with $703, 500 in December 2010? And by the way, she came back to teach in January, so why take so long to complain about it?

The truth of the matter is, Quebec’s education minister is clearly trying to save her own skin, but in attempting to do so she has only managed in aggravating students further. Perhaps Lucie Lequin, the CUFA president, is right, and Beauchamp simply sent the letter as a “political and public relations move,” desperate to try to show the world that she is taking note of universities’ sometimes sketchy budgetary decisions.

By taking away $2 million from Concordia, money that could have been put toward student financial aid (tuition is going up, remember), Line Beauchamp hasn’t convinced anyone that she takes university management and accountability to heart.

If anything, she has only further convinced us that when it comes to universities, she only sees dollar signs, and not talent, intelligence or potential to improve society. Well done, Line, well done.


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