A conversation with Alan Shepard

Article written by Étienne Lajoie and Matthew Lapierre

Concordia president talks funding, pension plans and sexual misconduct

Concordia president Alan Shepard sat down with The Concordian on Monday, April 9 to answer questions about government funding, library employee pension plans and the university’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Q: In its 2017 budget, the federal government invested $117.6 million to launch the Canada 150 Research Chairs competition to “boost Canada’s brain gain.” Twenty-four chairs previously working in the United States were brought in. Has or will Concordia benefit in any way from this funding program?

A: We did apply for that grant; we didn’t get it, but we got others. One would be the Canada Excellence Research Chair program. There were 11 chairs given out to nine institutions. We were one of the nine universities, so that comes with $10 million in funding.

Q: How does that work? Do you receive funding and then reach out to researchers?

A: These processes are very complicated and highly audited. We have the opportunity to hire a chair. We have to identify that person, they have to be vetted and ratified by an internal committee at Concordia, then it goes to the federal government for further ratification. The person you are proposing has to be a strong international player. Then, if that’s all accepted, the person arrives and you get the funding over a number of years.

Q: There seems to be a disagreement between the university and the Concordia University Library Employees’ Union concerning pay cuts that the library employees have had to take. Both agree there’s more money going to the pension plan. Does the university intend on sitting down with the union to solve this apparent conflict?

A: We are in a period of negotiations with many unions. The government, two years ago, adopted pension reform legislation for our sector. What had been happening is Concordia had been paying 80 per cent of the pension contribution, and the employees paid about 20 per cent. And as it happened with public sector employees, the government had a desire to make it either 50/50, or 55/45, where the institution pays 55 per cent and the employee pays 45 per cent. Those were the parameters.

When you go from contributing 20 per cent to 45 per cent of your salary to the pension plan, that’s noticeable. We did a lot of preparation over a year and half to get people to understand that. We’re in negotiations, and we’re mindful that employees have had to pay more.

Q: The Concordian obtained a statement written by Emma Moss Brender, the department of philosophy’s chair assistant, regarding allegations of sexual harassment in the department. Would you like to comment on these allegations?

A: We feel like the university has been proactive with these files. Since I arrived at Concordia, my team and I have been working in a proactive way to make sure the environment we have is safe, respectful and appropriate. When we have allegations, we investigate them. If the investigation shows some kind of sanction is warranted, we don’t shy away from that. I do think over the last seven years every university has had cases where lines have been crossed. I do think the cultural milieu has changed from even when I began my career.

Q: Concordia provost Graham Carr was part of a delegation of university executives who visited Switzerland’s post-secondary institutions from March 25 to 29. Can you tell us why Carr was part of this delegation, and how Concordia will benefit from this?

A: Quality Network for Universities is a national organization, and it tries to provide professional development opportunities for senior leaders of universities. One of my criticisms of the Canadian higher education system is sometimes that it operates in a bit of a bubble. Switzerland is one of the most innovating countries [in higher education], so we’re always trying to figure out how we can either emulate or borrow ideas from other jurisdictions.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


President claims no disconnect between university and students

Article written by Étienne Lajoie and Megan Hunt

Alan Shepard says he is interested in the results of the CSU student congress

In an interview with The Concordian on March 15, Concordia president Alan Shepard offered no comment in response to a recent CBC report revealing that two Concordia part-time instructors, Jon Paul Fiorentino and David McGimpsey, were the subjects of complaints in a third-party investigation.

“I wouldn’t be able to make any comments about any investigation,” Shepard said. The university has not made a comment regarding the complaints since the report was published on Feb. 28.

Although Fiorentino and McGimpsey were originally scheduled to teach this semester, their classes have been reassigned while the allegations against them are being investigated. Shepard told The Concordian on Feb. 15 that professors are not allowed to teach while they’re under investigation.

Lack of faculty attendance at student congress

When asked if he felt the university’s administration was disconnected from the student body, Shepard said: “Absolutely not.”

As previously reported by The Concordian, only one Concordia faculty member was present at the congress organized by the Concordia Student Union (CSU) to discuss proposals on potential sexual misconduct policy changes. Kate Bligh, a part-time faculty member in the School of Irish Studies, as well as the theatre and English departments, said that in her 20 years of teaching, she had never been asked to attend any consent training similar to what the CSU wishes to implement for all students, staff and faculty within a reasonable time frame.

“The same way we hold discrimination and violence to this standard, we have to do the same with sexual assault and violence,” Bligh said.

Shepard said he was “very interested to see the results” of the congress, adding that Bill 151, provincial legislation requiring universities to take certain steps to address sexual violence, will require consent training for faculty and staff in all universities.
“We have to comply by September 2019 and I anticipate that we’ll do it this coming year, so it’ll be early,” Shepard said. According to him, the university is already doing “a huge amount of voluntary consent training” for students, but whether or not the training will become mandatory depends on the findings of the newly created sexual assault task force.

He also said the university’s Sexual Assault Research Centre, whose employees were not present at the congress, “does a great job [and] has been training hundreds, if not thousands of students. Probably thousands at this point.”

Shepard told The Concordian he hasn’t received an invitation from the CSU to meet with executives, but said if they want to speak with him, he is “always willing to talk to them.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Concordia president addresses concerns

Alan Shepard says university often does not assign classes to staff under investigation

Concordia president Alan Shepard discussed public concerns about the investigation of the university’s creative writing program and the creation of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Violence in a press briefing on Feb. 15.

In early January, courses taught by two creative writing instructors, whose names have not been publicized, were reassigned after accusations of sexual abuse and misconduct within the program circulated on social media. Although these instructors have not been teaching since the investigation began, Shepard could not confirm whether they will be assigned any classes in the upcoming summer and fall semesters, citing legal reasons. However, he did mention the university’s typical response to staff investigations.

“In general terms, if someone’s not teaching because they’re under investigation, they typically wouldn’t return to teaching while they’re still under investigation,” Shepard said. “If somebody’s under investigation, then they’re under investigation, and we don’t mix and match.”

The president also clarified that the investigation is only reviewing the actions of certain instructors and concerns about the atmosphere in the English department, and not the university as a whole. However, he said the sexual misconduct task force, to be made up of both staff and students, will be reviewing policies that affect all faculties and departments.

“The task force is a general review of the policies and procedures, a kind of environmental scan,” Shepard said. “Whether there will be any other [department investigations] will be something we’ll determine after we have done the work of the task force.”

Bomb threat: One year later

Shepard praised the university’s response to the bomb threat made on March 1, 2017, when Islamophobic letters were sent to multiple media outlets, and three of Concordia’s downtown campus buildings were evacuated.

“The Concordia community handled that episode well, particularly our security services […] which is really important in that kind of civic emergency,” Shepard said.

Coming up on the one-year anniversary, the incident has recaptured the public’s attention with the trial of Hashim Saadi, a former Concordia doctorate student who was arrested in connection with the threat. Saadi’s trial is currently on hold while he undergoes a psychiatric evaluation.

Although the university reviewed its safety guidelines following the threat, it was decided there would be no policy changes.

“Whenever we have a major incident, we always do a so-called post-mortem,” Shepard said. “We felt like our policies and our practices work well, but it’s important to learn from every instance like this.”

Concordia is now subscribed to an emergency response app called Alertus, which immediately notifies app users about emergencies at the university.

“I have it on my phone, and I recommend everyone have it on their phone,” Shepard said. “In the event that we have some terrible thing unfolding, God forbid, we can send a message.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


President addresses sexual misconduct investigation

Alan Shepard denies reading 2015 letter detailing allegations, discusses new guidelines

Concordia president Alan Shepard shed light on the current investigation into the highly publicized allegations of sexual misconduct against multiple instructors in the creative writing program and reflected on what steps the university will take to address the issue of sexual violence on campus, in an interview with The Concordian on Jan. 25.

Shepard confirmed that a number of former students submitted a letter to the chair of the English department in 2015 detailing the allegations made by Emma Healey in her essay “Stories Like Passwords,” which was published on the website The Hairpin. The letter also described what the signatories felt was a hostile environment. However, Shepard insisted he didn’t read the letter in 2015 because the dean did not disclose its contents to the president’s office after the signatories requested confidentiality.

“As I understand it, [the English department] immediately referred it to the dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science, and there were meetings and discussions about their experiences,” Shepard said. “We take confidentiality super seriously, so the letter was not transmitted up the line to the provost or to my office.”

Shepard also discussed the university’s conflict of interest policy, and whether the policy will be amended to prohibit faculty-student relationships.

Currently, Concordia’s conflict of interest policy guidelines cover a range of circumstances, such as working alongside immediate relatives and situations that may lead to “real or perceived” preferential treatment, but does not explicitly mention romantic relationships. Shepard said that, while American universities are able to ban faculty-student relationships under a federal law called Title IX, the laws in Canada are different.

In Quebec, a piece of legislation called Bill 151 does require certain steps be taken to address sexual violence on campus, including requiring schools to “include a code of conduct specifying guidelines for […] sexual relationships […] between students and persons having an influence over their academic progress.” However, Concordia’s legal team concluded that “an outright ban would be unlikely to withstand legal challenge,” according to Shepard.

Shepard also claimed the university had been working on a new set of conflict of interest guidelines before the allegations gained national attention in early January. The university’s new guidelines will require employees, but not students, to report any faculty-student relationships to their supervisors, and the couples would be unable to simultaneously engage in a romantic and professional relationship.

Despite the fact that the university will not be prohibiting romantic relationships between faculty and students, Shepard said he personally does not believe such relationships are appropriate.

“In my view, such relationships really can’t be equal relationships because you have a power differential,” he said. “So we’re strongly discouraging it, but we think that is as far as the law will allow us to go.”

As for progress on the investigation, Shepard said it is still in its early stages, and a number of students, graduates and staff members are being interviewed. He added that, for legal reasons, the university would be unable to publicize the conclusions of the investigation or any potential disciplinary action taken against employees. “As much as we might want to, we can’t,” Shepard said.

The university has also announced plans to create a task force on sexual misconduct and sexual violence to review current policies and address the requirements of Bill 151. The university is currently looking for a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff and external members to join the task force. This task force will be in addition to the deputy provost’s investigation into the university’s environment.

“It’s not like on courtroom TV where everything is wrapped up in 49 minutes plus commercials,” Shepard said. “It’s actually a serious process, so it’s not super slow, but it’s not super fast.”

Shepard added that one of the university’s priorities is developing strategies, including better training and stricter conditions of employment, to prevent future cases of harassment and misconduct.

“It’s one thing to punish people after it’s happened,” he said. “It’s way better to minimize the opportunities for this kind of conduct. A fair bit of this can be stopped before it gets started.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins


Concordia announces plan of action following sexual misconduct allegations

President Alan Shepard confident in university environment: “The department is safe”

“I feel confident with the environment we have at the university and that the department is safe,” said Concordia president Alan Shepard after announcing the launch of an assessment of the university’s current environment on Jan. 10.

Following allegations of sexual misconduct by professors in Concordia University’s creative writing program, Shepard said he was “profoundly sorry.”

“We take this stuff very seriously, very seriously,” he said.

Concordia president Alan Shepard responded to recent allegations at a press conference on Jan. 10, stating that the university is not “trying to sweep everything under a rug.” Photo by Étienne Lajoie

Shepard announced on Wednesday that the university will be launching an investigation into the allegations posted online by Concordia alumnus Mike Spry on Jan. 8. The investigation was one of three specific actions Shepard outlined during the press conference and in a press release sent to students. The release, written by Shepard himself, reads that the university will also be “meeting this week with students, faculty and staff in the creative writing program to listen, support and chart a path forward.”

The university’s third initiative is an assessment of the “current environment” at Concordia, which will be coordinated by deputy provost Lisa Ostiguy. Ostiguy previously chaired the Sexual Assault Policy Review Working Group, which reviewed the university’s sexual assault policies and made recommendations in August 2015.
“These are complicated matters, and we have to proceed with care. People’s lives are affected by these experiences, and people who are facing allegations also deserve due process,” Shepard said. “We take the allegations seriously. It’s not a case of us trying to sweep everything under a rug.”
Shepard invited students to consult the university’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities and the Sexual Assault Resource Centre (SARC).

When asked if the university had decided whether to suspend any professors, Shepard said “all investigations are confidential by law and by our policy.” He did not comment when asked if any professors accused of misconduct might still be employed by the university.

“One of the misconceptions I think about our university is that we get complaints about faculty members and we ignore the complaints. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Shepard said.

In 2014, Concordia alumna Emma Healey published an essay on the website The Hairpin making allegations of sexual misconduct against a Concordia creative writing professor. When asked about the university’s lack of response to previous allegations against professors from the program, Shepard said “I acted on Monday afternoon because I heard about it on Monday afternoon.”

Several former students have stated on social media that the creative writing department’s “toxic culture”—as Spry referred to it—has been an open secret dating back 20 years. According to Shepard, “it was not an open secret” to him. “I did my best to pay attention,” he added. “I deeply regret. This is not okay. This not acceptable.”

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins


A conversation with Concordia’s president

Alan Shepard comments on allegations, fundraising, campus expansion

“I hate that this kind of stuff happens,” said Concordia president Alan Shepard in response to a question about the unsolicited social media campaign that resulted in two Concordia students being allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted.

Montreal police opened an investigation into the alleged assaults, however, “I don’t have any idea how the investigation is doing,” Shepard told The Concordian. He said the SPVM hasn’t shared details with him.

The university was informed of the cases during the first week of November, Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr disclosed in an interview with The Concordian. Shepard said the incidents happened “some time ago,” including one last winter. “We acted as soon as we felt we had our facts straight,” he said.

According to Shepard, these incidents won’t change the university’s sexual assault policy, which he described as “strong and robust.”

Fundraising campaign

According to Shepard, the university is halfway to raising the targeted $250 million for its Campaign for Concordia: Next-Gen fundraiser, the largest in the university’s history.

The campaign is to attract world-class talent to Concordia, Shepard said. “You’re trying to make great education. It’s a competitive landscape [between universities]. It’s not a ladies and gentlemen club—it’s a free-for-all,” Shepard explained. “We need the resources to attract really compelling faculty, researchers and compelling students.”

The president said the money is not currently in the bank, and, instead, comes in the form of pledges or promises of gifts that eventually come to the school “over a 10-year window.”

“We have the promise that it will come in the next while,” Shepard said, referring to the funds they’ve already amassed.

Expanding Concordia

Following the announcement of a new $52-million research facility to be built behind the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex on the Loyola campus, Shepard told The Concordian he has “ideas of other needs” the university has for expansion.

“Every public institution has a responsibility to look at options and think about the future,” Shepard said. But the president admitted the process can be long.

“These buildings take five, seven, eight or 10 years between the twinkle in your eyes [when you say] ‘I think we should build a building there’ to opening the doors to students,” he said. Speaking about the university’s downtown campus, Shepard said the university is “pretty strapped for land,” adding that, “if we were to expand, we’d probably look for new acquisitions.”

Faculty social media policy

In September 2016, a York University professor was fired “for allegedly sharing anti-Semitic posts on his public Facebook page,” Global News reported at the time.
Shepard and spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr said there is no specific media policy, but the university’s academic code of conduct applies to all faculty members, even on social media.

“Whether you behave a certain way in person or in class or on social media, those same codes of conduct are in place,” Barr explained.
“If I’m your prof and I write to you by email, I’m writing to you in a governance framework. If you write to me on Facebook and I write back, I’m still writing to you as your prof, and the rule still applies,” Shepard explained. “If, as a private citizen, not as a professor, I write on Facebook, that’s a different matter.”

With files from Ian Down.

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins


Shuffling from SGW to Loyola

Concordia students and staff raise money for student bursaries and scholarships

Students and staff of Concordia University participated in Concordia’s 27th annual Concordia Shuffle— a 6.5 km walk from the Sir George Williams campus to the Loyola campus aimed at raising money for student bursaries and scholarships.

Shufflers gathered at Loyola to be welcomed to the President’s Picnic. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

University spokesperson Chris Mota said over $78,000 and counting has been raised in pledges from this year’s shuffle. She added that it was “the best year for the shuffle.”

Concordia University News reported Concordians raised $65,000 during the shuffle for student bursaries and scholarships last year.

Shufflers arriving at Loyola campus. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

Participants can also bicycle, run or rollerblade during the shuffle, said Faye Corbin, a Shuffle volunteer and a member Concordia’s library staff. “This year we have a group of people who are using the Bixi [bikes], and [their group] actually donated bixis for the event,” she said.

Students must raise a minimum of $25 to participate, and for faculty and staff it’s $40, said Corbin. She added that people can gain sponsorships from family, friends, professors or even by sponsoring themselves.

Shufflers pose at the President’s Picnic. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“With the minimum sponsorship, they get the shuffle kit, which [includes] a T-shirt. This year, it also [comes with] sunglasses with a few passes to restaurants, yoga and Le Gym,” said Corbin.

At the end of the walk, participants were welcomed with the “President’s Picnic” at the Loyola campus, where they were greeted with food and prizes.

Shufflers refuel after their 6.5 km from SGW campus to Loyola campus. Photo by Alex Hutchins.

“We always try to do the best we can and surpass the previous years,” said Valerie Roseman, organizer of the 27th shuffle and development officer of community programs. She said there was no set goal for how much money the Shuffle aimed to raise this year.


Fostering student futures

Canadian Club advised on how to create opportunities

On Monday, Feb. 2, Concordia President Alan Shepard gave a talk to the Canadian Club of Montreal at the Hilton. Entitled, “Today’s youth, tomorrow’s global citizens,” it emphasized on the need to create opportunities in order to let students develop ideas while preparing them for a globalized society and job market.

Shepard presented three key opportunities which would allow academia and society to come together in order to help ready students for the challenges of the world they will face upon graduation. The first opportunity, said Shepard, is to provide “more hands-on work experience while students are in their course of study.” The second was to enhance the general contributions towards the public good in Canadian society. The third was to “create more intentional pathways for future leaders to engage globally during their formation.”

While elaborating on his first proposed opportunity, Shepard expressed support for a proposed change by the provincial premier in the laws on the way companies with payrolls of over $1 million must spend one per cent of it on training for current staff. His envisioned

changes would allow for the creation of more co-op opportunities for university students.

He also emphasized why it was important for opportunity creators not to be biased towards purported jobs of the future and allow for all fields to flourish from the creation of student opportunities.

His second proposed opportunity centered around micro-philanthropy, which calls on many people contributing to society by taking part in small instances of charity.

“It would add mostly informal learning experiences, and would validate those experiences for university degree credit,” Shepard said.

The last proposed opportunity was to create more programs in which university students would have access to a greater amount of exchanges in order to offer experiences which would help them enter the job market with a competitive pedigree.

“We are shortchanging Canada’s future when we don’t send our students out to explore the world,” Shepard said.

During his talk, Concordia’s president informed the crowd on the recent activity surrounding the university’s student-driven incubator, District 3, such as the Spoil project which has finished a preliminary financing round with a Silicon Valley accelerator fund. He also urged guests to create incubators in their perspective organizations or companies which help with the development of ideas and “would put Montreal in the Vanguard of innovation culture.”

He concluded by stressing that these proposed opportunities will only come to reinforce Canada on the international stage and that the network of incubators was growing in the city. The bilingual talk was received with enthusiasm by the assembled participants at the Canadian Club.


A more dynamic Concordia?

President Shepard: “We have to keep up to speed, whatever that might mean.”

The times, they are a changin’. Concordia’s Academic Plan and Strategic Framework are expiring and the university is seeking to engage the entire community in deciding what comes next.

This is the takeaway message Concordia President Alan Shepard wants the student body to know as he and his administration get set to enact the Strategic Directions drive, the process by which we’ll all be able to chip in with our two cents in an act of participatory community building.

“For me it’s important both in a formal sense that we have a document, and in an informal sense in that it facilitates the conversations. I think we’re having right now and all around the place conversations about where we we want to go, whether we want to go there or not, how do we get there, how much that will cost, and what resources do we need,” said Shepard when asked as to the raison-d’être of the initiative, which isn’t a necessity for universities.

The campaign calls for a short planning timeline of six months so that by June some preliminary points can be sent over to the senate and the Board of Governors for approval. Then will come the time to hear from the faculties and staff for what they foresee their realistic needs and areas for growth can be. Eight groups, organized under headings like experiential learning or innovation and entrepreneurship, will help organize the endeavour.

“We’ll ask those units where they want to go within the framework that’s been established,” said Shepard.

For the rest of the semester a slate of speakers at the forefront of university education will come by and give public, free lectures.

“It’s designed to bring in outside voices, because there’s nothing worse than planning for five to 10 years down the road and [be] talking to only yourself.” Up to 25 academics, intellectuals, and notables will form those outside voices via free public lectures open to all.

One thing the administration seem eager to broadcast is a plan to expand focus on research.

“Universities today cannot be as they once were—almost exclusively teaching institutions— because we will find that if we do that we wouldn’t be providing the faculty with the latest research,” he said. It’s well known that the Federal government takes a positive view to giving grants when there’s research on campus.

Another point of focus will be a pressing need to find space for the Fine Arts faculty, which has had space issues in the past.

Shepard said experiential learning—specifically co-ops and internships—was another point to be discussed. “We will gradually have more online stuff, whether it’ll be whole programs, individual courses, or, more likely, more blended courses.”

When asked what universities Concordia is using as an example, Shepard mentioned Arizona State University—which has catapulted in the last few years into a major research university and is the largest public university by enrollment in the U.S.—as an institution worthy of emulation.

“I think the days when each domain of knowledge was separate, I think those days are waning, both in terms of how knowledge gets organized and what students want and need.”

This may mean a reorganization of programs and the possibility of new classes and programs. Everything is on the table, even increasing revenue from other partners—but how and from whom wasn’t said.

Even though Strategic Visions is getting a fair dose of fanfare, it isn’t meant to be a do-all, end-all.

“It isn’t a detailed plan; it’s not a playbook,” said Shepard.The previous academic plan had scores of recommendations; not this one. “I don’t see us changing our stripes to be something we’re not,” said Shepard, who likened successful universities as those nimble enough to seize opportunities fast, rather than scratching their heads about whether its prescribed on a bullet-point list.

The first lecture as part of the speaker series will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 28, by former University of Wisconsin-Madison and American Council on Education President David Ward. Georgetown University Vice-Provost for Education Randy Bass visits on Feb. 5.

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Concordia institutes Voluntary Departure plan to cope with budget cuts

$29 million in total cuts by the end of this fiscal year forces Concordia to snip where it can.

Concordia University announced on Sept. 24 that it will be instituting a Voluntary Departure Plan for staff in continuing efforts to adjust to government instructions mandating $13 million in budget compressions for the current fiscal year.

The program, unveiled after  internal consultation on ways to meet a shrinking budget, will see mostly administrative staff given the option of leaving before contract expiry in exchange for severance packages, said to total about a year’s worth of pay for staff who have been working at the school over 10 years. Faculty members such as professors or other positions like librarians won’t be included in the plan.

The expected cost of the severance packages will help deal with the deficit to be overcome by saving the university up to $5 million this year, and may save up to $12 million on a permanent basis from the 2015-2016 fiscal year onwards. Concordia says it expects anywhere from 150 to 180 individuals to take the offer in a lengthy ‘rebalancing’ that would last several months to sort out.

Ultimately the amount of staff that will leave are unknown and it may very well be less than predicted, though Concordia President Alan Shepard said previous schools who’ve instituted the initiative have equally met greater-than-expected demand. Either way, he stressed the completely voluntary nature of the plan and how it was made with care in mind for the loyalty of university staff.

Other measures will be taken in addition to the Voluntary Departure Program in response to the government’s compression of the budget. For one, there would be delays in upgrading equipment like computers, but Shepard said there would be no cuts in student bursaries, scholarships, or research.

Shepard also admitted several important positions might go empty under such circumstances, but that the university would do its best to adapt.

“It’s hard to change the tire of the car when the car is running,” he said of the difficulties in changing a large entity like a university.

“We’re trying in a most respectful way to respond to the restraints given,” said Shepard on the difficult financial climate Concordia and other education institutions are facing.



International students as future citizens of Quebec

Paving the way for a more welcoming province for future graduates: Concordia President Alan Shepard addresses Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada

On May 22nd, Dr. Alan Shepard – Concordia’s president and vice-chancellor – addressed the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada on the topic of international students and their leaving of the province after graduation.

The meeting hall of the Omni Hotel, where the presentation took place, was packed with academics, entrepreneurs and sponsors who have long supported Concordia. Over 25 tables were filled with guests, and once everyone was seated and served some wine and salad, Shepard took the stage to begin addressing the audience.

Shepard’s presentation, called “Newcomers to Montreal and the role universities play”, presented members of the board of commerce with sobering facts about international students’ post-graduate behaviours.

According to Shepard’s statistics, Canada stands as the seventh most popular destination for students who seek to study abroad, with Montreal being the choice destination for post-secondary education. Over a 250,000 students attend higher education in the city, of which more than 10% are international students. Despite these encouraging numbers, Montreal has the lowest hiring rates of university graduates in Canada.  “We’re effectively educating people for other cities,” Shepard said during the presentation. Shepard seeks to rectify this issue using four key points.

“My first idea is that we should do more in concrete ways to make newcomers feel special and welcome,” he said. “Our biggest draw is our reputation, and our biggest welcome mat is our web presence.”

But while Montreal shows a great initiative, the city’s web page is lacking in resources linking potential immigrants to Quebec’s immigration portal. Once there, the directions to reach Montreal’s page require several clicks, and many pages are only available in French. To provide a solution, Shepard pointed to what he refers to as “a more welcoming model”, referencing the web presence for New York City. The site is offered in 35 languages, engages users on social media platforms, and their immigration offices serve visitors in more than seven languages.

His second idea is to create a financial reason for international students coming into the city to stay, suggesting a tuition tax rebate applied over roughly ten years of residency.

“Even if international students pay much higher tuition rates than Quebecers, it is still low compared to what they would pay in other regions. But imagine how much more attractive Quebec would be if we could bring rates down to our unbeatable in-province tuition,” he said. This move is mirrored in other provinces across Canada: Manitoba, New Brunkswick and Saskatchewan all offer these options for international students who choose residency after graduation.

Shepard’s third idea is a project he calls “Discover Quebec”, which is aimed at out-of-province students who seek to learn French in order to make their livelihoods in the province. Despite Concordia’s “Oui Can Help” program being an excellent option for learning French, Shepard believes that “as a society, we could go further.” His project would provide newcomers with lessons about history, culture, and integrate students into learning French via co-op placements in Francophone workplaces. This, according to Shepard, would provide these students with “tangible benefits: residency status, a job offer – a place in Quebec society.”

But beyond the scope of language and culture, his fourth idea is to widen the responsibility for welcoming these immigrants into the province. La Vitrine, which Shepard uses as an example, is launching a project that will offer new international students a rebate towards theatre, fine art and other cultural activities. “Remember that culture is often the glue that keeps people here,” he said.

Addressing the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada directly, he suggested business owners and entrepreneurs to open up promotional offers, sponsoring an event that is popular with new Montrealers, and helping these visitors feel welcome to the province. Among all this, he also urged our focus into green spaces and good urban planning to make the city a place people want to live in.

With young professionals graduating from higher education spearheading the future of Montreal, Shepard’s ideas apply to every student and resident of the province, regardless of where they’re from.

President of Concordia University Dr. Alan Shepard with two members of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada. Photo by Jocelyn Beaudet.



Queer Concordia hosts Dr. Alan Shepard

Photo by Marilla Steuter-Martin

“The first time I went anywhere as a gay person…it was 1984. I was 22-years-old and I was going to my first meeting at the Lesbian and Gay Student Union at the University of Virginia. I was absolutely terrified.”

At a talk organized by Queer Concordia on Tuesday, Jan. 14, Concordia President Alan Shepard reflected on his experiences being openly gay in life and in academia.

“Flash-forward about five years after that – with many adventures in between – I was the president of the Lesbian and Gay Student Union, which if you told me in 1984, it would have seemed as far-fetched as emigrating to Quebec and becoming university president,” said Shepard.

He began his speech, directed at an assembly of approximately 50 students and community members, by joking about being one of the few openly gay presidents in Canada. Shepard then recounted a series of personal stories, some light-hearted, some poignant. He spoke candidly about his early life growing up in a small town in the Midwestern United States, his coming-out process and his role as a parent.

“If you had said to me at 23, ‘Will you have kids? Will you have a partner of a long time? Will you have financial stability? Will you have professional recognition and success’? All those things that, to various degrees, people want, I would have been pretty discouraged,” he said.

The talk was very well received, with organizers and attendees praising Shepard’s openness and candour.

“I was positively surprised how personal he was with us,” said Marie-Lisa Porten, events coordinator at Queer Concordia. “It’s one thing to be out, it’s another thing to talk to students about ‘this is how I met my partner and we adopted two kids’.”

After the talk, Shepard stayed to speak with students and receive feedback.

“I feel Concordia is a very accepting community,” said Jade Legault, a board member at Queer Concordia. “Having you as president is very empowering.”

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