Concordia President Quits

Did Woodsworth Resign or Was She Removed?

Three days before Christmas and only halfway into her mandate, Judith Woodsworth has stepped down as president of Concordia University for “personal reasons.”

While the embattled president will receive $703,500—or the equivalent of two years salary—under the terms of her contract, sources in the university claim that Concordia’s board of governors presented Woodsworth with an ultimatum: resign and collect your severance or face an embarrassing public dismissal. If so, she chose the former.

The president’s resignation was similar to that of her predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, who left Concordia midway into his contract in October 2007 at the board’s urging. At odds with a board staffed overwhelmingly by the same members that saw Woodsworth go, Lajeunesse took the $1 million remaining in his contract when he walked away.

Woodsworth’s departure did not come as a surprise to many in the administration, as sources close to the board first informed The Link in September that the president’s term would be terminated before the end of the year or early in the new year.

“I am deeply grateful to Judith and wish to recognize her leadership, achievements and commitment over the past two and a half years,” stated Peter Kruyt, the chair of the board, in the university’s press release. “Concordia has thrived under her direction.”

While Woodsworth’s administration may have seen the university’s first strategic framework, the last four months of her term were marked by a series of resignations and stumbles that, according to sources, sealed her fate.

Kathy Assayag, the former VP Advancement and Alumni Relations, who also served as president of the Concordia University Foundation—the body that oversees Concordia University and eConcordia—resigned on Sept. 8 and cited “personal reasons” for stepping down.

As the most successful fundraiser in the university’s history, Assayag’s departure was discussed at a board meeting on Sept. 30—a meeting that started in closed session and remained closed for over an hour. During the open session that followed, a governor alluded to the closed session and stated that Assayag’s vacated position was discussed.

On Sept. 29, VP Services Michael Di Grappa, the architect of the university’s rebranding in the 21st century, announced that he would be stepping down from his position. He took a senior position at McGill.

At the board meeting the next day, sources claim that Woodsworth was asked to explain how she allowed both VPs, who were widely believed to be the two most powerful people at Concordia after the president herself, to leave.

No explanations were ever shared beyond that room.

In October 2009, the president raised the ire of some students when she told The Link that the American model of tuition would be a good model for Concordia. The statement was taken as a sign of support for increased tuition—a position that was clarified in August when the president called for Concordia’s tuition to increase to $5,000 a year by 2020.

In September of 2009, Woodsworth fired Saad Zubair and Ted Nowak, two of Concordia’s auditors, because they had allegedly charged $250 worth of restaurant meals to the auditing department’s expense account and concealed it from the president.

The firings would haunt the president, as she was called in front of Quebec’s Labour Review Board on Nov. 2. During a long cross-examination, the auditor’s lawyer, Rolland Forget, made the president admit to engaging in the same behavior that led her to firing the two auditors. The Labour Review Board also found that Concordia paid for Woodsworth’s husband, Lindsay Crysler, to fly with her on a number of business trips. Other expenses related to the president’s trips to China, India and the 2010 Olympic Games were also questioned.

The Labour Review Board has yet to rule on the validity of the firings of Zubair or Nowak.

“I’ll bet she had a Merry Christmas,” quipped Aaron Green, the president of the Arts and Science Federation of Associations. “I don’t think she resigned, I think she was told to resign.”

The ASFA head was most disturbed by the size of the president’s severance package, especially at a time when students are facing large tuition increases and the university’s budget is being constantly trimmed.

“That money is student money and it should be used towards student projects,” said Green.

University spokesperson Chris Mota was incapable of commenting on the situation or the possibility of clashes in the administration.

“The plan, at this point, is to appoint an interim president fairly soon, whether it is next week or later I don’t know,” said Mota, who added it could take six months to a year to find a permanent replacement.

This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 17, published January 4, 2011.

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