Student Union Divided

CSU Council Meeting Marked by Infighting

CSU Coucillor Ethan Cox pushed for the resignation of 23 board of governors. Photo Laura Kneale, Courtesy Of Cutv

The Concordia Student Union is calling for 13 members of the university’s board of governors to resign over their role in the firing of former Concordia President Judith Woodsworth.

On Wednesday, CSU Council approved a motion which condemned the “dishonesty” with which Woodsworth was fired and demanded that the 13 board of governors’ community-at-large members whose terms of office have expired step down.

“The abrupt dismissal of the second Concordia president in three years has caused a serious crisis in confidence at our university,” said CSU Councillor Ethan Cox. “The current situation at the university is largely caused by the external members of the board of governors, many of whom represent corporations and have a corporate view of university.”

Twenty-three out of 40 Concordia board members are community-at-large members, and most of these are corporate executives. Cox and a handful of other councillors accused the external members of running the board like a private business when they fired Woodsworth midway through her five-year mandate without warning. The councillors also took exception with Woodsworth’s $700,000-plus severance package.

Initially, Cox presented Council with a motion demanding the resignation of all 23 community-at-large members. His motion failed after two rounds of voting and hours of heated debate, which highlighted a growing divide within council.

The day of the meeting, the CSU released a carefully worded statement criticizing the board’s communication with the Concordia community but not calling for any immediate action to be taken. CSU President Heather Lucas stood behind the statement, but came under fire from councillors Cox, Lex Gill, Melanie Hotchkiss, Joel Suss and Michaela Manson for not taking a stand against the board’s unilateral firing of a second university president in three years.

The five councillors weren’t alone in their condemnation of the former president’s dismissal. The Concordia University Faculty Association, all 25 chairs of the department of Arts and Science, the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association and 300 professors all demanded board resignations or an investigation into the matter.

Lucas and most of the CSU executive remained silent as tempers flared in the debate over Cox’s motion. Only former CSU President Amine Dabchy and Councillor Abdullah Husen, who represent students on the board of governors, voiced support for Woodsworth’s firing.

Dabchy, who was invited to speak at council by Lucas, also criticized Woodsworth for firing former Concordia VP Advancement and Alumni Relations Kathy Assayag, for allowing VP Services Michael Di Grappa to leave his post, for dismissing both of the university’s internal auditors and for her support of university tuition increases in Quebec.

The former CSU President also said that the four student representatives who sit on the board had a hand in the former president’s dismissal.

“[The student representatives on the board of governors] weren’t happy with President Woodsworth,” said Dabchy. “We even brought our concerns to the board’s chair and asked for [Woodsworth’s] resignation a few months ago.”

Gill and Suss subsequently called Dabchy’s loyalties into question.

“Is [Dabchy] representing students to the board or is he representing the board to students?” asked Gill.

Cox’s motion to call for all 23 external board members’ resignation was eventually defeated by a vote of 12 against, seven for and four abstentions.

“I think the councillors that abstained felt they didn’t know enough to make an informed decision about the motion,” said Gill. “That’s a legitimate position, but I feel as though the CSU executive should have educated them on the issue a little better.”

Council finally approved a motion demanding that the 13 community-at-large members whose terms had expired to resign. University bylaws state that community-at-large board members cannot serve more than two consecutive three-year terms unless there are exceptional circumstances preventing this, but in some cases, the external board members have overstayed their term limits by over a decade.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 19, published January 18, 2011.