The Characters, Costs and Corruption of Con U’s Administrative Past

Questionable and contentious governance is neither a recent nor inexpensive phenomenon here at Concordia.

Over roughly the past 20 years, ConU has reportedly doled out a whopping $10 million to 45 departing administrators.

In recent years, the school has watched an unusually high number of upper-administrors come and go—with many of the departed leaving with hefty and controversial severance packages.
Since 2005, two presidents have been given the boot and five VPs have resigned.

In the spring of 2011, nearly all student and faculty associations—representing 7,000 university staff members and over 41,000 students—vocalized their lack of faith in the university’s highest governing body and pushed for the complete restructuring and overhaul of the Board of Governors.

This loss of confidence and public uproar provoked the BoG to commission an External Review Committee to look into matters

The Process

March 18, 2011

The External Governance Review Committee is announced.

Former McGill president Bernard Shapiro is named chair of the three-person committee, alongside André Côté, Quebec’s first lobbyists commissioner, and Glen Jones, Ontario’s research chair on post-secondary education.

The committee is given 60 days to investigate. Each member is paid $1,000 per day to conduct the review.

June 15, 2011

The External Governance Review Committee’s “Shapiro Report” is released, making 39 recommendations.

The report determines that a “culture of contempt” plagues Concordia’s governance.

Recommendations include reducing the size of the Board’s voting members to 25, enforcing term limitations and ensuring that the body is balanced with members from the non-profit, business and public sectors.

Sept. 28, 2011

In order to improve governance at the university in keeping with the recommendations made by the External Governance Review Committee, the BoG adopts recommendations of its Ad Hoc Governance Review Committee and Special Joint Committee of the Board and Senate on bylaw amendments.

An open discussion of the review is hosted by Interim President Frederick Lowy.

March 2. 2012

The Concordia community receives news that an external audit will be conducted concerning the human resources processes and practices used in reaching settlements with former senior management that departed from the university between Sept. 2009 and Dec. 2010.

The university announces that the summary of the findings and recommendations will be released to the

March 8, 2012

The BoG names PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP facilitators of the review concerning the decision to proceed with an early departure or an involuntary termination of a member of senior management.

The same day, the Ministry of Education serves Concordia a $2 million fine due to its concerns with the increase in compensation the university has been giving to its departing senior administrators.

Concordia assures students that they will not be negatively affected by the fine, and confirms that the school agrees with and understands the government’s concerns.

Sept. 28, 2012

After review, the BoG unanimously decides to adopt all recommendations made in the External Process Review.

The findings of this report are made public.

The Costs

Severance Packages Paid to Administrators Mentioned in the Report

$605,000 to former Internal Audit Director Ted Nowak
$639,000 to former Internal Assistant Audit Director Saad Zubair
$700,000 to former VP Advancement and Alumni Affairs Kathy Assayag
$332,000 to former Chief Financial Officer Larry English
$129,000 to former Security Director Jean Brisebois
$703,500 to former President Judith Woodsworth

The Characters

Meet Ted Nowak, Saad Zubair, Larry English, Jean Brisebois, Kathy Assayag and Judith Woodworth: they were Concordia employees who left senior management positions during the External Process Review’s 14-month review period.

These administrators were selected as the sample subjects because they came to financial settlements with the university while all leaving between September 2009 and December 2010.

Ted Nowak and Saad Zubair were employed by Concordia University as internal auditors under Judith Woodsworth. Both were fired from their positions by Woodsworth after they allegedly failed to disclose approximately $250 worth of meal expenditures that had been charged to the Department of Auditing’s expense account.

On Feb. 1, 2011, Concordia issued a statement clearing both of all charges, thanking them for their “exemplary service” to the school and offering them an option to return to their posts if they were so inclined. Nowak and Zubair both opted to exercise their retirement option, walking with $605,000 and $639,000 in severance, respectively.

Larry English quit his job as Concordia’s CFO midway through his contract in December 2009. He had joined the university in 1996, worked under four separate presidents and was later named president of the Canadian Association of University Business Officers in 2010.

Jean Brisebois served as Concordia’s director of security from 2001, until he retired from his post in December 2009.

Kathy Assayag was Concordia University’s most successful fundraiser to date. She stepped down from her position of VP Advancement and Alumni Affairs in Sept. 2009 citing “personal reasons.” Judith Woodsworth allegedly “pushed” her out, according to a student representative on the Board of Governors at the time.

Judith Woodsworth stepped down from her position as president in December 2010, citing “personal reasons.” A month prior, she admitted to practicing similar behavior to that which led her to the fire of Nowak and Zubair.

Additionally, she was later found to have expensed her husband’s plane tickets to Concordia, while he accompanied her on business trips.

University sources claimed that the BoG gave Woodsworth an ultimatum, forcing her to choose between a public dismissal and resigning with a severance package. She chose the latter, and left with about $700,000.