The Board Wins

“We don’t take too kindly to outsiders in these parts.” Graphic by David Barlow-Krelina

In the two months following former President Judith Woodsworth’s Dec. 22 firing, a movement for change swept through Concordia.

Every major union and association representing the university’s 50,000 students, faculty and staff called for a dramatic overhaul of the university’s Board of Governors, which had dismissed two university presidents in the span of three years.

For a moment, there was a genuine feeling that things were going to be different, and that the Board would be cornered into enforcing the will of its constituents. This widely held hope for change was crushed at the Feb. 17 Board meeting.

Facing calls for the resignations of 16 Board members that had overstayed their term limits and an unprecedented demand for democratic reform to the university’s highest governing body, the Board did not budge.

No one has resigned, no real dialogue has been opened and the chair of the Board, Peter Kruyt, is in China. He won’t be back until the school year is up.
Instead of taking action, the Board suggested a committee of three experts from outside Concordia make recommendations as to how the university’s governance should change—which is funny, as we were under the impression there were already a few strongly worded recommendations kicking around.

So rather than listen to the 50,000 people it governs, the Board will defer to three experts. And what’s more, the Board is under no obligation to enforce any recommendation brought forth by the experts.

Concordia Interim President Frederick Lowy, who was handpicked by the Board, did a poor job of justifying this to the university’s Senate.

“I’m not recommending that an outside group of experts tell us how to run the university,” he said at Senate’s Feb. 19 meeting.

Well President Lowy, what do you call the Board of Governors? Twenty-three of the Board’s 40 members are selected from outside the university. These 23 members disproportionately represent the country’s business elite and they are largely responsible for the predicament we now find ourselves in.

Perhaps the irony of Lowy’s statement was lost on Senate because they more or less abandoned their fight for reform. While the tension between Senate and Board still remains, the optimism and outrage are gone. The fight is over.
And, as usual, the people who decided to play by the rules lost.

Unless students and teachers decide to start sitting-in, walking-out or forming some kind of human chain to prevent the Board from meeting, the chips will always be stacked against democracy.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 24, published March 7, 2011.