*** NOTE ***
Dear Mr. Kruyt,
The executive and membership of the Concordia University Faculty Association, CUFA, were as surprised as the rest of the university by the sudden resignation of the President, Dr. Claude Lajeunesse. The manner, timing and implications of this resignation are very disturbing to us. The absence of transparency regarding the reason for the decision to terminate Dr. Lajeunesse is particularly worrisome.
Neither the press release issued by the Board, nor the statement by Dr. Lajeunesse, provides a believable or coherent explanation of the President’s departure. The press suggests alternately, depending on who is quoted, that Dr. Lajeunesse’s ouster was a result of his inability to deal with students and staff or that he was not a “people person.”
The closest we have seen to a rational explanation for this decision was provided in the statement made to the Gazette by the university spokesperson, Christine Mota. She states that the President and the Board shared a common vision for the university but wanted to take different paths toward the goals implicit in it. When questioned on why the desired paths were so divergent, she responded that “…A lot of the discussion does happen in closed session (and) is expected to stay behind closed doors.”
This is unacceptable. All the members of the University community are crucial partners in this institution. We share in the successes and the failures, the good press and the bad. How can any vision be brought to fruition, or path to that vision be followed, if the members of the University community are unaware of either? Moreover, how can a university, where the academic mission is central, move forward if the vision and the path are not debated and approved in the Faculty Councils and Senate? For this reason, it is important that we understand how the Board and Dr. Lajeunesse differed in their visions, or in their desired paths toward these visions.
There is process at Concordia for the selection of a president. The process takes upwards of a year. We take this time to ensure that we select someone with the qualifications, vision and personal characteristics to lead the university. After all that concerted effort, can an incumbent be dismissed in a morning with no process, no discussion, no explanation? And yet we do not know why the head administrator at a major publicly funded University was forced from office, at a reputedly high monetary cost, during fiscally challenging times. Though we do not know which group orchestrated the ouster of Dr. Lajeunesse, there is a wide-spread suspicion in the University community that this was not the informed decision of the entire Board of Governors. Are we wrong in our belief that the Board did not have a full and informed discussion about the President’s departure, or about the timing and the implications of this decision for university governance and finances?
The timing of Dr. Lajeunesse’s resignation is particularly problematic. Concordia went through considerable turmoil in the 1990s, particularly among the higher administration.
After much effort we had finally regained some stability. The premature resignation of the Provost, Dr. Singer, was a setback in this respect, but taken alone it could be managed. At this point, any other actions leading to instability, given our history, should have been avoided if at all possible. The absence of a compelling and transparent reason for the President’s departure is very disturbing to us.
The current situation has created an undesirable air of uncertainty at the University. The view that important decisions at Concordia are taken behind closed doors, as Ms. Mota’s statement to the press suggests, is not productive and is certainly not acceptable to the CUFA membership. Is this truly the message that the University wants to convey internally and externally? This is the antithesis of a University. Such secrecy with regard to such a key announcement has, and will continue, to engender wild speculation about the true goals of the Board. This is certainly not conducive to the development of a leading Canadian university.
We are concerned about the future of the university. The immediate issue is the choice of an acting President. You have announced that the search for Dr. Lajeunesse’s replacement as President will be undertaken in accordance with the current by-laws. This is as it should be. But we are currently searching for a new Provost. It would only seem logical that the visions of these two senior administrators should mesh and that a new President might have particular views on the appropriate qualifications of a new Provost.
How does the Board intend to ensure that these two senior administrators will be able to work together?
Since the University community has not been consulted in any way about the resignation of the President, an account after the fact is in order. As today’s Gazette editorial states, this is a concern for the broader community as well. If the Board is to retain the confidence of its community, it should provide satisfactory answers to the following questions:
1. What were the reasons behind the resignation of Dr Lajeunesse? In particular, if there were disagreements between the Board and Dr. Lajeunesse about vision, style, goals, or path to those goals, were the different points of view:
a) ever presented to the Board as a whole in either closed or open session,
b) ever discussed by the Board as a whole, and
c) ever presented to the University community for consultation, discussion and debate?
2. Did the Board as a whole ever discuss the desirability of the termination of Dr. Lajeunesse?
3. Was there a full and informed discussion about Dr. Lajeunesse’s departure by the Board as a whole?
4. If any of the above-mentioned actions were not taken by the Board as a whole, then who took such decisions and under what authority?
5. Did the Board as a whole discuss the details of the severance package for Dr Lajeunesse and approve it?
6. In view of the instability it creates, why was not greater effort made to ensure that we did not lose the President at a time we are without a Provost?
7. How does the Board intend to deal with the fact that we are searching for these two senior administrative positions at the same time?
President, Concordia University Faculty Association
cc. Members of the Board of Governors