On Campus

Report finds "culture of contempt" at Concordia

Montreal university needs to clarify its mission

Concordia photo courtesy of Foxtongue on Flickr

Concordia University needs to make major changes to how it’s run, according to a new report on the university’s governance.

The report, released on June 15, says that the university suffers from a “substantial degree of misunderstanding, blatantly deficient internal communications and a lot of distrust, often bordering on mutual contempt, between the various communities of the university.”

The report was written by three outside experts who were brought in after the sudden departure of president Judith Woodsworth over the Christmas break exposed deep divisions between students, faculty and outsiders on the board of governors. Woodsworth’s immediate predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, was also forced to resign by the board in 2007. As well, the university has seen the departure of a number of vice-presidents.

According to the report, efforts to solicit the opinions of community members found that “everyone seemed quite willing, in some cases even anxious, to think the worst of someone – in some cases, everyone – else.”

While the report acknowledges that the circumstances surrounding Woodsworth’s departure contributed to the “chorus of negative response,” it says that the problems within the university go deeper.

“The depth and even the fury of that response could only have arisen in a context where long simmering governance and internal communication problems between the board and the university community… had neither been addressed nor resolved.”

Part of the problem, according to the report, is the school’s lack of direction which has led to “tension between those who uphold its tradition of accessibility and openness as opposed to those who place greater value on a development model which features research and graduate studies.”

The report recommends that the university deal with this by updating its charter to include a clear mission statement and by developing an academic plan.

The report also recommends reducing the size of the board from 40 members to 25. The smaller board would maintain the current ratio of outsiders to insiders, but it would no longer include representatives from alumni associations. As well, the percentage of faculty on the board would increase while student representation would decrease slightly.

According to the report, “the committee saw no evidence, although there were rumours, accusations and insinuations … that the Concordia board has systematically interfered with core academic or curriculum decision making.”

However, the committee did find evidence that board members had worked “directly with members of the administration in such a way as to bypass and, therefore, weaken the function of the President.” As a result, the report recommends making the president the only point of contact between the board and the administration.

Other recommendations include formalizing the powers of the university senate and enforcing term-limits for board and senate members. The recommendations for a smaller board and firm term-limits are in line with a university governance bill currently before Quebec’s National Assembly.

Despite the problems, the report suggests the university is doing some things right. “What is remarkable… is that under these difficult and adverse circumstances, the core activities of the university, its teaching and research, appeared relatively unaffected,” it says.

The university will hold an open meeting on the report on June 28.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.