Talking With Presidents

Lowy and Gill Open Up on the BoG Meeting

Photos Riley Sparks and Erin Sparks

After a particularly contentious encounter between Concordia’s administrators and students at the Board of Governors meeting last Wednesday, The Link arranged two, 15-minute interviews with the university’s presidents—Dr. Frederick Lowy and Concordia Student Union leader Lex Gill—to talk about the issues that came up. Here are some highlights. The complete transcript can be found here.

Interim President

On the meeting, the motions and the student reaction:

“I think there were two meetings at the same time,” said Lowy. “One was the issue of student representation on the board, […] but the main meeting was the tremendous move forward we’ve made since last winter.

“Since then we’ve done whatever possible to get communication going among the various segments of the university and I hope we’ve succeeded.”

Lowy also said he understood why the issue of student representation took precedence in the minds of students after the meeting. But he maintained that “the Board has really gone a far way to alleviate the sense of disempowerment” students are feeling by including an alternate governor in the new board makeup.

The alternate—who does not have voting rights on the board, but participates fully on various committees—has speaking rights at the table.

“I know it’s symbolic rather than a practical thing,” said Lowy, “[but] I don’t recall a single instance that the vote was so close that one vote would have made a difference. […] In meaningful terms, students will be represented.” On the Chair, the Audience and the Culture of Contempt:“Look, there is a lot of concern about the Board Chairman, but he’s going to step down at the end of this academic year,” said Lowy, when asked to comment on many students feeling that “the culture of contempt” is still evident in Concordia’s governance system.

“I don’t agree [the culture of contempt is alive at Concordia],” he went on. “Of course it may come across that way, but certainly no contempt is intended and I hope it doesn’t actually exist. Whether it’s there or not is in the eyes of the beholder. […]

“I don’t think that there was an attempt [at the Board meeting] to be contemptuous or dismissive of students. It is true that the Board Chair ran the meeting in a fairly strict way—but he has a right to do that.”

When asked what he thought about the Chair’s suggestion that there shouldn’t be an audience at the meetings—inspired by undergraduate student Alex Matak, who stood up and voiced her dissent—Lowy said, “I don’t think anybody on the Board believes [that] people who want to sit in on board meetings should be excluded.

“I’m perfectly content for people to come, depending on the availability of seats. I have no problem with an audience being there to see what’s going on.” 

On future student engagement in Concordia politics and tuition increases:

“Let me just clearly state that I think that students have a right to demonstrate, as long as they do it peacefully and don’t cause damage to property or harm to people—and if they are respectful of those students who don’t want to demonstrate,” said Lowy when asked about anticipated tuition demonstrations towards a day of action in downtown Montreal on Nov. 10.

“Otherwise I think that students, or anyone else in a free country, have a right to demonstrate and be heard.”

Lowy also clearly outlined his position on tuition increases, which can be read online.

“There are a lots of things I’d like to say to students, […] and give my broader vision for the whole university,” concluded Lowy, who added
he’d be willing to do other interviews over the course of the semester with The Link.

“Look, we’re all partners in this, we sometimes disagree but it’s our university; it’s your university, and it’s my university. Let’s face it, presidents come and go, students come and go, but the institution lives on. It’s about the welfare of this institution.”

Concordia Student Union President

On the meeting, the motions and the student reaction:

“The behaviour of the board wasn’t unexpected, but what it did was solidify a lot of our fears and concerns about university governance,” said Gill.

“The fact that they [hastily moved forward on bylaw changes] was indicative of a bigger problem: you can change your bylaws all you want, but if you’re replicating the same dynamics of power, marginalization and authority that got [Concordia] into this crisis in the first place, fundamentally nothing has changed. Same tactics, same people.”

On the Chair, the Audience, and the Culture of Contempt.

According to Gill, there is absolutely a culture of contempt at Concordia, and there is specifically contempt for students.

“This is the only body that really has the ability to make sweeping decisions about student life, about fees, about research […] that fundamentally and directly impact students lives, and these are the same people who are telling students they don’t want them at the table,” she said.

“I fail to understand the decrease and specifically the way it was handled—the secret ballot, the procedural nonsense, the ‘I’m the Chair’ [attitude from Peter Kruyt] and the ‘We can talk about democracy later’ [comment from Board member Rita de Santis].

“All these things really tarnish whatever attempt Concordia was making to [fix the current culture of contempt on the government level] and their desire to move forward.” 

When asked about how she felt about how Board Chair Peter Kruyt handled the meeting, Gill didn’t mince words.

“Peter Kruyt is a man that just does whatever he wants, isn’t he? […] It’s not like these people function under Robert’s Rules [of Order]; it’s sort of at the dictatorial whims of Kruyt & Company. But he could have just not let that debate happen at all. In a way, I’m sure he thought he was facilitating democracy.”

Gill also expressed that she was both astounded and unnerved with the way Kruyt handled procedural attempts by the student reps to discuss and debate Article 23, which determines board makeup, calling his actions “heavy-handed.”

“In the end, you can be collegial and respectful with these people, but any student who thinks [the Board] is on their side is fooling themselves.”

Gill said from the outset that, while she does have a privilege as a member to speak and vote on the Board level, she did identify with the “frustration, anger and disappointment” demonstrated by Matak at the meeting.

“What I tried to bring up on the Board, before they cut me off, was that Alex [Matak’s] outburst—and students’ feelings in the audience—isn’t going away,” she explained.

“If you cut people out, silence and marginalize them, people find a way to speak—whether or not they have a microphone, they’re going to be there,” she said. “[Students] will find a way to speak up, and now it’s a question of [if the Board] wants it to be in the spirit of cooperation, or to beef up the security budget for these meetings.”

On student engagement in Concordia politics moving forward:

Gill said she “absolutely” foresees more direct student action on campus this semester from both the CSU and from individual student groups on campus.

“When [the university is] closing people out of boardrooms, when [tuition increases are] closing people out of classrooms, fine. We’ll meet you on the fucking street,” she said.

“I think that if there is a sense that [students] aren’t being listened to, understood and cared about, the natural reaction is, on some level, disruptive—and then obviously you couple it with research, information, engagement and you try everything you possibly can procedurally to make these things happen in a legitimate way.

“But nobody in the student movement is ruling out direct action, occupation and strikes, because negotiations just haven’t worked so far.”

Good direct action, said Gill “is playful and creative, and I would urge people who are working on those sorts of things to keep that in mind.”

Stay tuned for another tête-à-tête with the two presidents in The Link in the coming weeks. Have any questions or comments for the presidents? Email them to