Talking With the Presidents II

Concordia’s Leaders Talk BoG, Money and Ticking People Off

Concordia’s Interim President Frederick Lowy Photo Laura Beeston
CSU President Lex Gill Photo Riley Sparks

As another Board of Governors meeting thrust the issues of transparency and accountability—as well as an audit—to the forefront of Concordia’s political sphere once again, The Link talked to our school presidents.
Here are the highlights.

FREDERICK LOWY, Interim President
On the BoG’s hesitation to adopt the Graduate Students’ Association’s motions to film meetings, accommodate a larger audience and hold a question period:

“First of all, I can’t speak for the entire Board, and I do believe in transparency, but there are some problems with televising [the meetings],” said Lowy, who explained that certain Board members expressed personal discomfort being filmed and streamed online.

“There are individual rights involved. It’s not a simple matter. […] While Parliament is filmed, and the National Assembly is filmed, those are political organizations. In our case, we’re not.”

Nevertheless, a committee has been set up to discuss the pros and cons of recording the meetings and making them available, which will be brought to the Board at the next meeting. “Then we’ll decide which way to go,” he said.

On the student reps ticking the Board off:

“I’m not going to try to defend comments made by individual board members,” said Lowy of the remarks made by Board member Robert Barnes at the last meeting.

Barnes, who represents the Sir George Williams Alumni Association, told student representatives that they’d have more support for other motions but that they are “ticking people off,” and “just do not let it go,” a reference to efforts to revisit the topic of student representation on the Board.

“[The continued charge of contempt], I think, is an overstatement. I think a lot of people confuse disagreement and contempt,” continued Lowy.

“It galls me that we have the wrong image,” he said later, when discussing Concordia’s now infamous reputation.

“I think it’s an image that doesn’t reflect what we want to be or, to a larger extent, what we are.”

Lowy added that even Board members who are “insufficiently sensitive to students” aren’t contemptuous.

“They might behave in a way that it comes across like that,” he said, “but the Board members I know reasonably well are genuinely interested in this university and students.”

He noted that some Board members have a confrontational style, but that he “honestly and truly [believes] that the people on the Board do not feel contempt for students.”

On the recently-released financial documents, upper-administrator salaries and students paying their “fair share” of increased tuition:

“To be perfectly frank, and I’m not a boastful person, but I think I earn my keep,” said Lowy, who makes $350,000 plus perks—including a $1.4 million interest-free loan to finance the purchase of a condominium—and an expense account.

“And I think my colleagues here in the university senior administration are also doing the job. They’re all committed, and they all work hard.”

When asked about trimming down the top-heavy upper administration, or if the university could do with fewer Vice Presidents, Lowy said he didn’t know where we could cut “without losing something important.”

“In terms of the actual salaries of the people, we’re in a competitive marketplace,” he continued. “As compared to the rest of Canada, [the salaries] tend to be a bit lower.”

LEX GILL Concordia Student Union President

On the BoG’s hesitation to adopt the Graduate Students’ Association’s motions to film meetings, accommodate a larger audience and hold a question period:

“You have to remember that when the same thing was proposed at the CSU Council last year, there was the same original discomfort,” said Gill. “Eventually people came around andrealized that being filmed isn’t the end of the world.”

While she’s under the impression that the Board executive is not supportive of them and was initially surprised that student-proposed motions would be discussed at all, Gill said she was excited for the opportunity to sit on the committee and come up with solutions to increase accessibility to the meetings.

“These guys on the Board could do themselves a really big favour in terms of public relations by simply agreeing to make these meetings public,” said Gill, adding that it would send a necessary message that they have nothing to hide.

“This is an important mechanism to keep [the Board] accountable,” she said. “I’m hoping that this is a baby step. What really needs to be fought here is this sentiment I’ve heard from Board members that these meetings shouldn’t be public in the first place, or open to public participation. That’s nonsense.”

On the recently-released financial documents, upper-administrator salaries and students paying their “fair share” of increased tuition:

“University competition and seeing this institution as a business competing for the same revenue streams—or, you know, students—is a really pervasive and ridiculous justification for things like senior salaries,” said Gill of the over $7 million paid annually to Concordia’s upper ranks.

“This mentality makes the assumption that what makes a school great and what’s worth paying for is more senior administration, which is not particularly reasonable when you think about what they could really be investing in.”

Admitting that the revelation of senior salaries “wasn’t a scandal,” Gill opined that it came down to a question of what good management looks like.

She added that competition is “essentially a race to the bottom.”

“In the end, what they’re doing is creating a system that’s driving up their own salaries—and students are suffering.

It’s rich—and insulting—to ask students to pay more,” she continued, wondering aloud if those in the upper admin would even feel a $40,000 pay cut.

“Students live in a totally different world than the people who run their universities, and that’s a problem, because if you have people making decisions that affect the real lives of students, they have no real understanding of what the impact will be.

“These guys, no matter how well-intentioned they are, can’t understand the lived experience of a student in poverty, in debt, on student loans or fighting with the bank for another semester,” she continued. “This is not the way they live.”

When you’re playing with hundreds of millions of dollars, Gill concluded, “it’s difficult to imagine how a $1,625 [increase in tuition] is too much to ask.”