Lowy Takes Office
Capping off a month that saw a wave of unrest sweep through Concordia, Frederick Lowy officially took office as the university’s interim president Friday.
Lowy, who served as Concordia’s president from 1995 to 2005, is stepping in for Judith Woodsworth, whose sudden and unexplained Dec. 22 firing has caused just about every student and faculty association on campus to demand a drastic restructuring of the university’s Board of Governors.
“I’m determined to renew the dialogue with all our constituents and to show our commitment to consensus building,” said Lowy at a press conference in Concordia’s EV Building. “We all have a role to play in determining the future of this university.”
Lowy will serve as president for up to 18 months while the Board searches for a permanent replacement. He was the last Concordia president to complete his term of office, retiring from the university in 2005.
Both of Lowy’s successors had their mandates cut short by the university’s Board of Governors, causing many within the university to question the Board’s governing practices.
Peter Kruyt, who chairs Concordia’s Board of Governors, spoke to the press for the first time since Woodsworth’s firing Friday. Although the Concordia community has been nearly unanimous in calling for his resignation from the board, Kruyt said he would not step down.
“The last few weeks have been difficult,” said Kruyt. “But I don’t walk away from a problem, I don’t walk away from a challenge and I don’t walk away because I’m not interested in this place.”
When asked to explain the reasoning behind the former president’s dismissal, Kruyt provided no new details to reporters.
‘We all have a role to play in determining the future of this university.’
Concordia’s Interim President
“[The firing] did not please us or members of the community,” he said. “But we are working to make sure the future is promising […] Things don’t always happen according to an ordained plan.”
Stepping into one of the most turbulent periods in Concordia’s history, Lowy is being touted as a pragmatist that will mend fences between the university at large and the Board.
But Sabine Friesenger, who was president of the Concordia Student Union in 2001, said that Lowy was far too cozy with the Board while he was in office.
“He was the Board’s figurehead. He allowed himself to be controlled by the Board’s corporate interests,” said Friesenger. “[And] the Board is at the center of Concordia’s current governance crisis.”
During Lowy’s administration, Concordia’s campus became increasingly corporatized, as many of the university’s support jobs were outsourced to private companies and fast-food outlets were welcomed across campus.
Perhaps the most infamous legacy of Lowy’s administration was the vast expansion of security at Concordia that occurred in the aftermath of the Netanyahu riot.
In the fall of 2002, after a student protest of a lecture by current and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned violent, Lowy oversaw the creation of the Risk Assessment Committee. The committee was designed to screen and approve all on campus events. To this day, former Concordia VP Services Michael Di Grappa remains the committee’s only known member.
“After Netanyahu, [Lowy] used security to cripple activism at Concordia,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “In some cases, it became almost personal.”
A number of left-leaning student activists were summarily expelled during this period, but as many of the charges against them were exaggerated, the expulsions were often overturned in court.
On Friday, just hours after Lowy took office, Concordia’s Senate unanimously voted to demand Kruyt’s resignation.
As tension between the university and its governing body continues to mount, it appears Lowy will have his work cut out for him.
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 20, published January 25, 2011.