(Another) Two Million Dollar Story

Fine From Ministry Must Be Paid By The Board

graphic paku daoust-cloutier

It’s extremely important that everyone in the Concordia community know that the incompetence of our Board of Governors, the highest body in power at our school, has screwed students and faculty over once again, this time to the tune of two million dollars.

Well, the $2 million actually came from the provincial government on Friday, handed down in fine form by the embattled Minister of Education Line Beauchamp because our off-camera upper ranks have been running the university “like any other business” and doling out too many golden parachutes and handshakes.

But you knew our BoG was bad. We’ve been telling you this for years. There’s even a book that was published in 2001 called Concordia, Inc. that pretty much spelt it out for everyone.

Concordia being called out, as many have noted, has been a long time coming.

So, in the wake of our embarrassing crisis of governance and notorious “culture of contempt” thrust into the glaring spotlight of national attention once more, the question on everyone’s mind is: why now?

It was December, 2010 that Judith Woodsworth’s ultimate $970,885.90-for-seven-months-of-work departure broke the proverbial camel’s back, so why weren’t we fined then? And where was the Ministry for former president Claude Lajeunesse’s $1.3 million parting package, or the exodus of big admin players Michael Di Grappa (enjoy him, McGill) and Kathy Assayag?

What about the rest of the $10 million that walked out the door over the last decade?

Perhaps most critically, where has the Ministry been as Concordia University—along with all the other universities in this province—began building this administrative army of bad decision-makers to begin with?

It’s worth noting that, currently, there are 28 members of Concordia University’s bloated bureaucracy netting $7 million a year total in salaries and lavish perks. At this juncture, it needs to be said: this is an insane per annum for people whose relative competence has been proven questionable at best, and megalomaniacal at worst. 

Our administrative money bleed also sees sitting-Interim President Frederick Lowy—whose job, as OpenFile Montreal described perfectly, is to “keep his head down and maintain order until a new president is found”—earning a staggering $350,000 a year on top of a $16,000+ expense account and $1.4 million interest-free loan.

This is all still public money.

Don’t get me wrong, Lowy is a very pleasant 78-year-old man, but no one honestly gets the impression he’s earning his keep, let alone working to better our corrupted system. And if $2 million is what Beauchamp thinks will do the trick, well, she’s dreaming.

While there’s some twisted justice that the total lack of respect and responsibility from our BoG is being called out in public, we need to ask how and why the Ministry of Education—also paid for through public funds—allowed our internal structures of governance to become this way.

Clearly, their bureaucracy has also failed in its duties over the last decade as well.

What else is strange about this whole thing is the $2 million. Why such an arbitrary number? Isn’t there perhaps a more constructive way to make an example of our university, such as direct oversight?

If they don’t want universities run “like any other business” how do they believe it ought to be run? Where are the directives, and what do these so-called “strategic targets” Beauchamp speaks of in her upcoming budget actually look like?

Your guess is as good as mine.

It’s sad, but at this point Concordia would probably be willing to take the freaking Liberal party’s advice on how to run things in Montreal—the BoG clearly requires that much direction upstairs, judging by their actions over the last decade. 

But it’s not like the decisions of the people running this place weren’t a cry for help, either: we hired a costly External Governance Review Committee to (correctly) diagnose our issues, for example, and then let the Board selectively administer the changes they saw fit and ignore the rest—solving nothing and allowing those in power to continue their business-as-usual.

A year before, they also wrongly fired, went to court, and had to re-hire two internal auditors who lifted the lid off of Woodworth’s monetary misspendings—which many claim are the reason she was expensively fired in the first place.

After quietly giving them a severance package, the Board is currently making a sweet contract with new external auditors to review the millions of dollars golden-parachuting out our door.

Mismanagement, non-disclosure and disorganization have plagued our university for a decade and will continue if the power structure does not dramatically change.

Does Beauchamp actually think the $2 million will hurt a board of multi-millionaire captains of industry that are finally on the dying days of their time here? (Remember, the Board decided they would be “phased-out” instead of outright fired, despite having broken their own bylaws and standing regulations.)

These people are untouchable; they don’t give interviews or explanations for their actions and they certainly don’t seem to give a damn about what’s best for Concordia. This $2 million is a slap on the wrist. Money won’t make any meaningful difference, and the Board and Ministry know it.

Montreal media blogger and The Gazette editor Steve Faguy also made an interesting argument on Twitter following the $2 million announcement that Beauchamp’s decision actually legitimizes the increasingly-bitter fight of students against the impending tuition fee hikes.

Students have been arguing, lobbying and mobilizing—for years—to change the broken internal education system in Quebec. 

That the two levels of school and provincial government have the audacity to tell us to “pay our fair share” while they do not earn or spend from the public purse wisely is arrogance to the first degree, and yet the broken bureaucracy angle of this tuition debate is largely missing from the mainstream media’s grand narratives of the student movement’s grievances.

But the reason all this should make you angry, dear student or faculty, is because you are the one who will likely be paying for the Ministry’s fine.

If Beauchamp or the Ministry wants to make one iota of a difference at Concordia by making us an example, and really stick it to the bad decisions being made, punishing students and taxpayers is the worst way to do it.

Our administration and Board of Governors are undeniably the ones that screwed up over the last few years, so they should be the ones held responsible for their own blatant mismanagement.

The rest of the Concordia community had zero influence or control over their decisions, and we have already paid for their mistakes and contempt for far too long. 

If you feel passionate or dis-empowered, call on our administration and the Ministry of Education to ensure that it’s not us who take another hit and that the $2 million be paid for by the Board and Concordia administration.

Hell, demand that their perks be automatically pulled from next year’s budget. And tell them to finally fire the BoG Chair Peter Kruyt, whose name at this point is synonymous with “contempt” anyways. 

The Board can be reached through danielle.tessier@concordia.ca and the Ministry’s regional Montreal office is 514-873-0620.

It’s someone else’s turn to take a cut at Concordia.

Anything else would be criminal.