A New Concordia

The Beginning of the End of the Governance Crisis

It was $10 million in settlements, 45 departures and one external review that defined Concordia’s decade-long governance crisis. It might be Alan Shepard and Norman Hébert, Jr. who end it.

Shepard stepped into his role as President of this university on the heels of two failed presidencies, with two of his recent predecessors leaving holding massive and controversial golden parachutes.

Hébert follows Peter Kruyt as Concordia’s new Board of Governors Chair. Kruyt was asked to resign from his position after a unanimous vote from Concordia’s Senate and was the recipient of an open letter of distrust signed by almost 200 faculty members.

Besides being new and in power, the men have a lot in common. They both really like the using word ‘transparency”—and actually seem to mean it. Both speak with the slow, deliberate tone of someone wary of the press—and both men are listeners.

Tough Questions Welcome

Lex Gill–the BoG’s undergraduate student representative both this and last year–noticed that same commitment to listening and felt she wasn’t the only one.

“Faculty members and staff that sit on the board feel that the environment has been dramatically more inclusive and open to criticism then had previously been the case,” she said.

One such question came from Norman Ingram, the chair of the History department, who asked why salaries have been raised 10.2 per cent.

He acknowledged that last year the government-banned bonuses at the university level but that the base salaries have seemingly jumped to compensate for that.

What was just as worrisome, he added, was that these increases seemed to favour non-academic administrators.

Hébert said that he would get back to the Board with answers on that topic. He added that since he didn’t know the question in advance, he could not provide a thorough answer mid-meeting. 

“I bring it up in some trepidation because obviously I am friends with some of the people who are on this list,” Ingram said.

To Gill, it’s just nice to have these conversations at all.

“Governors are asking questions that in previous years would have been considered controversial or would not have been welcome,” she said.

Hébert said after the meeting that he’s confident that kind of respectful dialogue will remain on the Board he’s chairing.

“There’s a way I expect to be talked to, so I will talk to you in that way,” he said simply.

A Two-Headed Beast

Senate, the school’s highest academic governing body, approved a motion last month to amend the university bylaws to balance out the power between them and the BoG. On Friday, the BoG’s approval ratified the changes.

It was one of the recommendations from the Shapiro Report, which stated that the university needed a Senate with teeth.

“We are not a business; we are a university and that means that the academic portion cannot be at the back of the bus,” said Shepard.

Gill was pleased to see what she saw as the “final salute to the Shapiro Report.”

While Gill had previously been a proponent of opening Concordia’s charter, as the Shapiro Report suggested, she said the new culture of the Board means that’s not really necessary anymore.

This new BoG, she said, brought an end to an era of “mistrust” in the Concordia community.

“I think the board has come to recognize the value of Senate and there is no desire to remove their powers,” she said adding that any attempt to do so would be “politically disastrous.”

At the Table, On the Streets

For several unions, however, a change of attitude at the Board won’t mean much if there isn’t a change of faith at the table.

A majority of the collective agreements with Concordia’s unions are currently open. In the past, collective agreements have taken years to settle.

“When you have collective agreements open for a long time, and unresolved, it has a slight acidic effect throughout the entire institution, and that’s not what we want,” admitted Shepard.

While the BoG meeting was in session, the university’s technical support staff was picketing outside.

They’ve been without a contract since 2009. The Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association just passed a strike mandate, and Concordia’s United Steel Workers local has had a strike mandate since April 2011.

If the changes in the administrative attitude don’t mean a difference in negotiations, Concordia may finish the governance crisis on the crest of a labour war.

“We need to change this culture; we’re going to,” Shepard said.

A Fresh Start

Hébert said he is “looking forward, not backwards” when it comes to Concordia governance. And the Board he sees is one Concordia can be proud of.

“What I addressed to the Board members is that we are observed. We have that responsibility to take care of the university on behalf of it,” he said. “We have to act like ladies and gentlemen.”

It’s a little early to say if this new dynamic at the Board will remain, or if it’s enough to wipe out over a year of bad press. But it’s certainly a start, and a shift that can’t be downplayed.

“I don’t think that everything is perfect yet, but I think that there is a lot of competence and a lot of good intentions,” Gill said. “The Board has come a long way.”

Additional reporting by Elysha del Giusto-Enos