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For sale: a presidential condo

by Jacques Gallant March 20, 2012
For sale: a presidential condo

Graphic by Katie Brioux

A luxurious condominium on Doctor Penfield Avenue is up for sale this morning, although it’s highly unlikely that its occupant is willing to vacate the premises.
A group of students and professors from post-secondary institutions throughout Montreal are holding a “sale” at 10:30 a.m. on March 20 in front of the Hall building, hoping to find a high bidder for Concordia President Frederick Lowy’s condo. The sale is not actually a sale, but rather “a symbolic, creative, fun event, that is more meant to get the dialogue going,” said School of Community and Public Affairs student Liz Colford, the event’s student spokesperson.
“The idea is anybody is invited to come and place a bid for the condo. We’re hoping for a big turnout,” she said.
The major source of frustration for the organizers is a controversial $1.4 million interest free loan that was issued by Concordia to Lowy last year upon his return to the university following the Board of Governors’ ousting of Judith Woodsworth. Lowy, who served as Concordia’s rector between 1995 and 2005, was on the verge of moving and had already made a commitment to purchase another residence outside of Montreal, and the loan was provided to cover that transaction.
Concordia has stated in the past that it has an agreement in place that would ensure that Lowy, who makes $350,000 a year, repay the loan once he sells his Montreal condo when his term ends this summer.
According to the event’s other spokesperson, Philippe Morin, an economics teacher at CEGEP Marie-Victorin, the idea for the home’s auction came about at a meeting of Profs contre la hausse, a group of professors who oppose the provincial government’s imminent tuition hikes.
“We wanted to bring under the spotlight the mismanagement of public funds at universities, part of which is the ridiculous pay of university principals, and Concordia’s principal quickly appeared on our shortlist,” he said. “Concordia has been kind of emblematic of mismanagement of funds over the past five or six years. […] Just the fact that Concordia lent [Lowy] $1.4 million interest free […] while thousands of students have to pay incredible debts and interests to banks, it just seemed too ironic for a university that actively promotes tuition hikes.”
Concordia has come under fire frequently over the past year for its management of public funds, not only related to Lowy’s loan, but also regarding severance packages totalling more than $3 million that were dolled out to several former senior administrators dating back to 2009.
The university recently raised the ire of Education Minister Line Beauchamp, who slapped Concordia with a $2 million fine for its handling of public money. The fine came shortly after the university announced that it would hire external auditors to review severance packages totalling $2.4 million handed out to five former senior employees.
“If Concordia is uncomfortable with what we’re planning, it’s because they know [the loan] makes no sense,” said Morin, a former Concordia student.
The university declined to comment on this morning’s sale.

Auction results

And the highest bid goes to: all Concordia students, who are paying for Lowy’s zero interest rate loan.

While the auction was set to take place in front of the Hall building, the 60 students who showed up for the “sale” decided to turn it into a march towards Lowy’s condo on Doctor Penfield Avenue and hold the bid directly in front of his condo.

Once there, they started hanging “on sale” signs on the walls of the building and pulling chairs on the street to hold an improvised “class” about universities’ mismanagement of public funds.

“It was really fun,” said Colford. “We learned a lot and came to the conclusion that, considering the money paid for Lowy’s loan comes from Concordia, and if we, students, consider ourselves to be Concordia, then this condo already belongs to us.”

The street-class was taught by School of Community and Public Affairs professor Anna Kruzynski and Eric Martin, philosophy professor at the Édouard-Montpetit CEGEP and co-author of the book University Inc. Kruzynski and Martin gave a speech about the “symptoms” of an education shifting from an institution supposed to teach knowledge and values, to a profit-making corporation.

“Universities’ administrators today live like they are rich corporate big wigs,” said Martin. “The problem is that they also behave like ones. The border between academics and corporations is slowly disappearing and this is our big problem. University is a sacred institution and corporations should not come and fuck it up.”

After the passionate speech, the “buyers” in the auction were invited to increase their bids by lifting signs reading what the condo’s value could buy for the university: “1,076 computers,” or “175 student meal plans.”

“The money used by universities in such transactions is taxpayers’ and students’ money,” said Martin Godon, coordinator of the action committee Profs contre la hausse. “In the Roman empire, people who used public money for personal usage could face a death penalty and an expropriation of all their goods by the state. I’m not saying we should do the same but this points out how scandalous and absurd all this is.”
With files from Sophia Loffreda

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