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Concordia's 'culture of contempt'

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In June of this year, a report was released on governance at Concordia University. The 39-page report was written by the External Governance Review Committee, a three-person committee chaired by none other than Bernard J. Shapiro (Canada's first ethics commissioner).

The report paints a picture of a rogue Board of Governors that ignored its own rules, undermined its president, and micro-managed the operations of the university. I find the report makes for interesting reading and makes some sensible recommendations. Yet, I'm a bit surprised that the report doesn't recommend that any board members be reprimanded.

According to the report:

- The Committee "was a response by both the Senate and the Board of Governors to the departure, no more than half-way through their first term of office, of the two most recent Concordia Presidents, apparently as a result of irreconcilable differences between each of them and the Board. These departures, especially the second one which took place in late December 2010, represented a public relations nightmare...[T]his event revealed 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."

- Concordia was experiencing a "culture of contempt."

- The large size of the Board of Governors (42 members) led to important decisions being made by a small, inner circle of board members, in some cases "without any formal status." Put differently, Concordia has witnessed the unofficial creation of a "Board within the Board."

- Some members of the Board of Governors were being elected to multiple terms, and stated term limits were being ignored.

- The report suggests that some board members were "insert[ing] themselves into day-to-day management" of the university. Indeed, "[t]here was...some evidence of Board members working directly with members of the Administration in such a way as to by-pass and, therefore, weaken the function of the President." This led to "the micro-management of specific dossiers."

The report makes 38 recommendations, including that the board be reduced in size from 42 to 25 members, and that any contact between board members and senior university administrators (e.g. vice-presidents) be "directly sanctioned by and arranged through the President."

While the above recommendations seem sensible to me, I'm a bit surprised by what wasn't recommended. In particular, I'm left with two questions:

1. If term limits on the board weren't being enforced, why wasn't it recommended that those board officials responsible for their enforcement be reprimanded?

2. If board members were circumventing the president and micro-managing specific dossiers, why wasn't it recommended that those particular individuals be removed from the board at once?

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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