Town halls air concerns 

By Barbara Black

Four open meetings were held over the past two weeks to discuss the university’s future. While the discussions were thoughtful and constructive, they were tinged with worry and expressions of concern.

The town hall meetings were called by the senior administration to solicit comments on five provisional statements developed by the Senate Committee on Academic Planning and Priorities (SCAPP) as part of a strategic planning process. These “strategic positions” call for the university to be “reciprocally connected with its community,” to be the “destination university” for both students and faculty members, to be a leader in environmental, social and financial sustainability, and to be a “preferred employer.”

Three general themes came out of the four meetings, each attended by between 50 and 100 people. The first, expressed by experienced faculty and staff, was a concern that Concordia has abandoned its traditional focus on teaching undergraduate students to strengthen its research profile and increase its share of graduate students.

Some longtime members of the community expressed a sense that teaching is undervalued, and that class sizes are increasing beyond a manageable level. However, not all agreed. A young faculty member who identified it as tension between the “mass” and the “elite” university model said he favoured the elite model, adding, “I came here because of my research.”

A second theme was communication and transparency. Many expressed nostalgia for the days when the administration and other employees seemed to share the university’s culture, and felt uneasy with what they saw as frequent changes in personnel among the executives. One person added, “Information may flow down, but it has to be seen to flow up as well.” Members of the panel pledged to explore ways to increase the number of opportunities.

eConcordia, the online course delivery system, came in for sharp criticism on the
grounds of both pedagogy and transparency. Teaching courses online is no substitute for a dynamic classroom, some said. There were calls for more information about how eConcordia is administered.

The slowness of the collective bargaining process was deplored by many speakers, and there were complaints about the number of employees working on time sheets, i.e. without any job security or benefits. The need to create a climate of mutual trust and respect was emphasized.

A third theme concerned the planning process itself. There was appreciation of the return to open meetings as a way of ventilating opinion and levelling the playing field, but there was also skepticism that the process would have measurable consequences, and sharp criticism of the choice of language in the planning documents.

Some longtime employees recalled previous attempts at planning that had sunk without a trace, and feared that this effort would meet the same fate. Others felt they couldn’t wait for long-term planning to fix immediate problems, and used the open meeting to talk about them because they felt they had no other opportunity.

Some participants found the five proposed goals vague, and difficult to disagree with in any meaningful way without knowing what would have to be given up to realize them. One participant remarked that generalities like these need to be translated into real life. The panel responded that translation into real life is the ultimate goal, but much work remains to reach that stage.

Comments are being solicited on the strategic planning website,, and a summary of town hall discussions will be posted. The committee is also looking at ways to broaden input from the community.

With additional information from Laurie Zack and Karen Herland.


Concordia University