Deja vu as Concordia loses second president in a row

Unanswered questions surround apparent firing of Judith Woodsworth

For the second time in three years, Concordia university has abruptly lost its president half-way through their term.

While the university is claiming Judith Woodsworth left for “personal reasons,” CBC, the Montreal Gazette and the Concordian have all quoted anonymous sources saying she was fired.

The big question, of course, is why.

When Woodsworth’s predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, stepped down in 2007 by “mutual agreement,” in other words he jumped before he was pushed, there was little question as to why. Lajeunesse managed to alienate almost everyone at the university. But Woodsworth was hardly a polarizing figure. She may not have been an inspiring leader but she certainly wasn’t divisive. In fact, she hardly seemed to be present at Concordia, she had very little contact with students, rarely spoke to campus media and seemed to spend more time promoting Concordia in China and India or meeting with alumni in British Columbia and the United States than actually running the university.

My feeling was always that Woodsworth was more of a figurehead than an actual leader but I was always under the assumption that this was what the university’s board of governors wanted, so I’m not sure if this is what may have lead to her firing.

There is another, more unsettling, possibility: that her firing was related to missuses of Concordia expense accounts or conflicts of interest related to a trip she took with her husband, a former Concordia professor, to the Vancouver Olympics, which was paid for by a company that does business with the university. Concordia also paid her husband’s travel expenses on several occasions when he traveled with Woodsworth on university business. There’s also a controversy involving two former Concordia auditors, who were fired by Woodsworth for abusing their expense accounts. They’re currently suing the university for wrongful dismissal.

Woodworth isn’t the first senior administrator that Concordia has lost this year. In September, Concordia’s head fundraiser, Kathy Assayag, stepped down for “personal reasons.” A few weeks later vice-president, services, Michael Di Grappa, left Concordia for a senior position at McGill.

Something is clearly rotten at Concordia’s top levels, but what’s actually going on remains a mystery. And that’s really unfortunate. As a public institution Concordia owes the citizens of Quebec an explanation. Concordia already has a reputation for secrecy and this certainly doesn’t help.

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