Trim the Fat

Graphic Eric Bent

It’s worth noting at the outset that the university turned a $15 million deficit into a projected $8.7 million surplus this year. That’s a $23.7 million increase, which is impressive by any measure.

Given those numbers, you’d think you were attending a university undergoing a sea change towards relative competence, but next time you find yourself in a Concordia cafeteria (God help you), look down at that plate of Chartwells-issued slop and think about $51,000.

This is the amount of money that Chartwells—the only food services company that runs cafeterias and cafés on both campuses—lost this year.

This number represents only a portion of the $203,000 deficit incurred by Concordia’s food services and is one of the many numbers revealed in the latest university audit last week.

Losing money to something as gross as Chartwells is as good a sign as any that we need take a long, hard look at where and how we spend—especially before administrators and politicians have the audacity to tell students to “pay their fair share” and that we ought to get ready for steep tuition hikes.

One man in support of a “fair” allotment of fees is Interim President Frederick Lowy, who’s been toeing the Liberal party line with regards to the upcoming province-wide hikes.

If there were other places to find money, he told The Link in October, no increases would be justified.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that Lowy is a man who earns a staggering $350,000 a year on top of his expense account, which has racked up $16,000 since February, and who netted himself a $1.4 million interest-free loan from Concordia to help finance his condo.
To give you some perspective, Prime Minister Stephen Harper earns $315,000 a year, perks included.

And on average, students who are lucky enough to get a job—and who have enough free time to work between classes and extra-curriculars—earn roughly $6,300 annually.

If we’re looking to cut corners in the coming years to curb post-secondary operating expenses or to find the money we need, perhaps we should look to our top-heavy upper administration.

Before Lowy, former President Judith Woodsworth took home some $970,885.90 in salary and severance for seven months of work—which comes out to a whopping $4,736 a day, or $3.29 every goddamn minute.

This figure doesn’t include $169,573 worth of “administrative leave”—a sabbatical-type pay to help her get back into academic life—she took on her way out.

The rest of the VP salaries—surprise, surprise—also gross six digit figures, with 28 of the top administrators earning over $7 million a year in combined salaries and bonuses. This, of course, doesn’t include expense accounts or perks, which, we have been told, are “pretty standard practice.”

Concordia is also notorious for spending more than any Quebec university on doling out the extras for those on the senior-level. In 2009, Concordia paid over $8,000 in private golf course and gym memberships to former VP Services Michael Di Grappa, for example.

All the while, students paying into this administrative arms race—those of us who would consider themselves lucky to work full-time for an entire summer to make what Woodsworth’s total compensation averaged for a single day—are being told it’s up to us to compensate for a so-called chronically underfunded institution, despite the fact that its bureaucracy is bloated and its basic functions are falling apart.

The shuttle bus doesn’t provide its most basic service in a timely manner; students are contractually obligated to exclusively eat horrific Chartwells-only food that’s losing them money; we’re being charged $9 a credit for an administration fee that continues to sustain its upper ranks, and the list goes on…

While it’s great news that numbers have been crunched and spent in such a way that Concordia comes out with an operating profit, it’s clearly time to continue to trim the fat—especially if the admin claim they’re looking for a way to operate a “fair and balanced” budget in the coming years.

We deserve—at the very least—a straight-talking justification for the fiscal state of affairs in this school and an explanation for why paying a “fair share” applies only to student spending, but not administrative earnings.
Someone needs to take a cut.

Laura Beeston