Editorial: Another Severance Package, Another Severed Tie

  • Graphic Morag Rahn-Campbell

Trudel’s employment at Concordia began on Aug. 17.

Echoing mistakes of recent past, Concordia University allotted yet another overwhelmingly high severance package to an employee.

Concordia made headlines recently with news of the termination of Chief Financial Officer, Sonia Trudel. The already controversial logic behind terminating someone just three months into a term was topped off by the $235,000 severance package Trudel received. Alan Shepard, the university’s president, has been highly criticized for it—and rightly so.

Her short-lived term as CFO kicked off on Sept. 21, and ended abruptly on Nov. 12, according to her discharge documents. Under privacy laws, the university is not allowed to reveal the reasons behind Trudel’s termination.

According to Quebec labour laws, Trudel’s severance package went above and beyond Concordia’s legal obligations as an employer. Employers must give one to eight weeks notice before terminating a contract, depending upon the seniority of an employee. This does not apply to people who have been working for less than three months. Trudel had been employed for 88 days—or two months and 27 days.

If an employer fails to give proper notice, only then would they owe their employee a “compensatory indemnity equal to the period of notice to which [they were] entitled.” To reiterate: Concordia was not legally obligated to compensate Trudel’s departure, and this dubious episode has once again put the university’s financials under due scrutiny.

It’s not the first time that Concordia is in the hot seat regarding disproportionate severance packages. During a period of 15 months between October 2009 and December 2010, the university handed out $3.1 million in severance packages when several senior administrators were fired or forced out. Concordia was fined $2 million by the Ministry of Education for the payouts to these high-paying positions.

The media has not taken the news of yet another extraordinary severance package lightly, especially since Concordia, under the guidance of past president Judith Woodsworth, has a track record for these types of cases.

In a senate meeting on Friday Feb. 12, Shepard claimed the media had sensationalized the information and was quick to link it back to previous incidents. He claimed this situation is different than previous incidents, and that it should not be connected to past years.

At the end of the three-hour meeting, Shepard exclaimed that it had been a “depressing” senate for him.

It’s common practice to hand out large severance packages in the corporate world and private institutions. Part of the reason is to compensate the employee in the case that they might be unemployed for some time while looking for another job.

But Concordia is a public institution, and the $235,000 that Trudel received was raised mainly through public funding—that’s our tuition fees and our tax dollars. Concordia already expects a deficit of $8.2 million for the 2015-16 school year.

In this time of austerity measures and budget cuts, the CFO was hired to deal with financial matters and construct a sustainable budget for the next school year. The irony is poignant.

Not knowing the reasons behind Trudel’s termination, The Link will not speculate but will only criticize the facts.

The university acted irresponsibly in hiring a CFO only to fire her a mere three months into the contract, and to award her such a large severance pay in a time of major financial compression is unacceptable. At senate, Shepard took full responsibility for this, saying that Trudel was hired under his recommendation and let go through a mutual decision.

In a private meeting with Shepard, The Link asked the president whether the hiring process would change in order to avoid another similar mishap. Shepard answered that the process would stay “fundamentally” the same.

Fundamentally, The Link is opposed to another mishap like the one that just came to light.

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