Talking With the Presidents

Photo Corey Pool

For the monthly Talking With the Presidents series, Julia Wolfe sat with Concordia’s President and the Student Union’s president to talk about reviews, resignations and getting settled. The next instalment will be Nov. 13.

Alan Shepard is smitten.

In an office under construction, at a university that’s had its fair share of rough press recently, Concordia’s new president bragged about a school that he’s just getting to know.

“I’m impressed with the place,” he said smiling. “I’m impressed with Concordia.”

He pointed to groundbreaking research and a faculty that he claims is “the best.” And after three short-term presidents, it’s refreshing to meet a man who seems like he wants to stick around.
He’s not, however, oblivious to the reputation Concordia has cultivated.

“Losing a president is a very rare event at most universities, and for better or worse we’re the national leaders on that,” he laughed.

Shepard just doesn’t believe that has to define the school’s future, saying that every new article about a previously departed administrator or bloated severance package keeps the university from moving forward.

“When people graduate and get a degree from Concordia, you want it to matter,” he said. “You want the value of that diploma to stick.”

This week, amid the clangs of construction, Shepard sat down with The Link in his eighth floor office for an interview—that he requested.

“It’s way better to be talking,” he said.

On Questionable Homestay Accommodations:

“I didn’t know anything about it until I read The Link’s story [“Taken for a Ride,” Vol. 33, Iss. 6]. We have an unequivocal responsibility to our students’ well-being.

So what we’re doing now is inquiring into what is going on and seeing if it’s isolated. What I don’t want to do is jump to conclusions. I just want our students to be well looked after.

“I’m not sure it’s going to be a big standing committee; you want to resolve these things at the lowest possible level. I’ve asked Concordia’s VP Services Roger Côté to look into it.

“Even if it’s only one student, it’s still important, and if it’s 21, then that’s a whole different scale. My commitment is that if there are issues, we need to address them, not sweep them under the rug.”

On the External Governance Review:

“It was a good piece of work. The Shapiro Report took a lot of courage by the previous board. Whatever mistakes they made, they should get credit for asking for an external review. And to the university’s credit, all the recommendations have been met.

“The review found issues with our process, and I thought their recommendations were fair. Some of them will protect the university, and some will protect individuals. There was nothing earth-shattering in the report, mostly just suggestions for improvement.”

On Labour Relations:

“Historically, we have not had enough personnel on duty in the labour relations unit. About a year and a half ago, we increased the number of labour relations specialists in human relations, so that should help.

“Concordia has a long history of negotiations taking a long time. On both sides, people want lengthy negotiations for various reasons.”

On Tuition:

“The [provincial] government has had press conferences, but they haven’t really sent us an official directive. I can’t do anything on the basis of a press conference; it’s got to be official.

“I’m sure they’re going to keep their word; it’s not that. What we don’t know is how—or if—they’re going to make up the difference. They said they would, which is welcome news. We certainly need the revenue.

“What I hope, and what I think, is that the people of Quebec want great universities. And great universities need funding. Excellence is not free.”

Schubert Laforest will tell you in four different ways that his job is hard.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but you don’t know until you start just how difficult the job is,” the Student Union president said.

It’s been a rough month for the man. Following several explosive council meetings, his VP Academic and Advocacy, Lucia Gallardo, resigned with a letter brutally attacking a union that she could “no longer be a part of.”

Both of Concordia’s student papers, The Link and The Concordian, have complained of poor press relations with Laforest, and a still secret “academic issue” has kept him from taking up his seat on the board of governors.

“It seems what we’ve done wrong has overshadowed what we did well,” he said.

On Sunday, Laforest sat down with The Link to discuss the CSU’s rather bumpy September.

On Questionable Homestay Accommodations:

“This issue was brought to us late last summer, but we’re in a stronger position to apply pressure after the article [“Taken for a Ride,” Sept. 25, Vol. 33, Iss. 6].

“I want to personally oversee looking into this. We’ve learned from the [recently dropped strike-related] security charges. It takes more guts. I have to be more overt about what I’m doing.

“We looked into the legal matter, and as an establishment this is something that surrounds all of us. What we need to figure out is the liability of the university, given the situation.

“We asked to be part of the investigation; they said they would get back to us. But I have a feeling we’ll be kept out because it’s being dealt with internally. It’s not so internal when international students are involved.”

On a Tumultuous Council:

“I don’t think it would be fair to assume that council won’t be contentious in the future—it will be contentious. But we’re going to work on having a better dialogue without directors, really communicating more, as well as having them feel more comfortable coming to talk to us.

“At least on the part of the executive, it’s going to be a lot less combative. It’s easy to get defensive when you’re criticized but that’s not helpful.”

On Gallardo’s Resignation:

“Our relationship with council hasn’t been as constructive as it could be. It seemed to come to a boiling point with Lucia’s resignation.

“For now, the executive is absorbing the loss. [VP External] Simon-Pierre Lauzon has taken on the Academic portion. As for Advocacy, we still have to figure that out. I have taken some of that for now.

“The short-term solution is to absorb the loss, but ultimately we will talk in council to see what should be done moving forward.”