Opportunity to discuss our future  

By Karen Herland

When Judith Woodsworth addressed the Concordia community in an open meeting last spring as a finalist for the position of President and Vice-Chancellor, she stressed her intention to have an open-door policy if she were named to the post.

The consultative process she put in place to develop the strategic plan is now complemented by her office’s latest initiative: a series of open-ended Conversations where Woodsworth meets with members of the community to share ideas.

(Left to right): Sociology Professor Bill Reimer, JMSB Admissions Counsellor Cynthia Hedrich, Engineering student Megan Putnam and President Judith Woodsworth chat during the Feb. 4 conversation. Magnifying glass

(Left to right): Sociology Professor Bill Reimer, JMSB Admissions Counsellor Cynthia Hedrich, Engineering student Megan Putnam and President Judith Woodsworth chat during the Feb. 4 conversation.

The initial three Conversations attracted students, faculty and staff from across the university. “When we first arrived, some of us brought notes and copies of the strategic plan,” recalls Environmental Health and Safety Director Sue Magor. “We were not sure what to expect.”

On Feb. 4, Woodsworth introduced the conversation by underscoring her hope that initiatives like this one would bring a small campus feel to our large and sprawling university.

Instead of sitting around the table, the decision was made to remove the chairs and mingle informally. “It was as important for her that we talk to each other as she talks to us. It really put a face on ‘The Administration’,” said Magor.

Kevin Naimi, a third year honours student in sociology, agrees, says the President has been inviting input since her tenure here began, both through her website and her messages to the university community.

“I would go to another conversation. It is really great to hear other people’s ideas about where we should be going.”

In some cases, those conversations did not directly relate to any existing project, but they did allow people to get to exchange ideas outside of their usual circles. Sociology Professor Bill Reimer, who has been involved in the New Rural Economy Project for years, was able to ask Megan Putnam, a student who did a term in Africa with Engineers Without Borders, if her student group would consider development projects in rural communities in Canada.

Alexandre Enkerli, a part-time professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, has participated in every aspect of the strategic planning process, including open meetings and the world cafés. “I’m interested in observing the process, I’m an ethnographer.” He said he preferred the open-ended format of the Conversations to the more directed approach in the world cafés.

Art History Professor Kristina Huneault finds the process refreshing, and a first for the nearly 10 years she’s been here.

“The administration is interested in hearing what faculty members have to say,” she said during the Feb. 4 conversation. Seeing her own words from a comment on the strategic plan used in a subsequent version of the plan convinced her she was being listened to.

Over all, Enkerli sees more community spirit on campus since this process began. “Even in teaching workshops I’ve attended, people are talking about the same things. They are really thinking about the future of Concordia University.”

He sees the initiative as a way to maintain that momentum. “I’m really convinced that the President wants to know what people on campus are thinking.”

Although there is no formal mechanism in place for the President to respond to the individual concerns raised during the Conversations, they are being recorded. All those who attended the Conversations were encouraged to elaborate their concerns in writing after they participated.

Woodsworth’s team learned from each discussion and integrated ideas from one into the next. At the suggestion of an early participant, people introduced themselves at the beginning of each subsequent event. Overall, Woodsworth was very pleased with the format and intends to hold more Conversations, including some in the evening, for some part-time students and professors who have difficulty attending during day-time hours.


Concordia University