After serving less than half of her five-year contract, Concordia President Judith Woodsworth resigned from her position on December 22. While Woodsworth cited “personal reasons” as the motive for her sudden departure, confusion and speculation has recently arisen about the details behind the situation.
According to Lucie Lequin, president of the Concordia University Faculty Association, there is a perception in the Concordia community that Woodsworth was pushed out of her position by a faction of external representatives on the university’s Board of Governors.
“We have to stop this pattern,” she said. “The external members of the board have to stop thinking that they can fire people over and over, or that they can encourage people to leave.”
Chris Mota, director of media relations for the university, said that Concordia stands by its statement that Woodsworth stepped down for personal reasons. Despite the departure, Concordia Board of Governors Chair Peter Kruyt said in the initial press release that “Concordia has thrived under her direction, with significant progress and an enhanced reputation on the local, provincial, national, and international scenes.” Woodsworth is the second president in a row to leave the university before the end of theircontract, following the same route as her predecessor Claude LaJeunesse. In addition, five vice-principals have resigned in the past five years, including Michael Di Grappa, now vice-principal (administration and finance) at McGill.
In a press release issued Monday, Kruyt defended the board, saying that all members take their responsibilities seriously and have only the best interests of the university in mind. Kruyt also rejected any speculation that Woodsworth or her husband misused the university’s funds.
Lequin, however, also expressed concerned regarding the transparency of the situation, and said many members of her organization were shocked to learn the news on December 22.
“There’s a need for a much more transparent board, because we cannot function this way. It’s bad for the university and it’s bad for morale,” she said. “What about recruiting young faculty members? Will Concordia remain the preferred offer? Or will they look somewhere more stable?”
Concordia Student Union President Heather Lucas echoed this sentiment.
“Students feel that the timing of how this came about was not what they were expecting,” she said in an email to the Tribune. “The students want a response and there needs to be more accountability.”
Despite these concerns, Kruyt maintained that “the teaching, research, and community service activities of the university continue uninterrupted and unaffected during this transition phase.”
As for Woodsworth’s replacement, Mota said Bram Freedman, vice-president (external relations) and secretary-general, is currently the acting president, but will soon be replaced by an interim president. Following this appointment, the search will begin for a permanent replacement.
“[The selection committee] includes all constituencies, including students, staff, and members of the external community,” she said. “Then the board will decide whether to go ahead with their suggestions. It’s a process that could take months.”
Lucas said she hopes to play a role in the selection process.
“As a proud board member I take this position very seriously,” she said. “I will do my best to ensure that the interim president is qualified for the position, and that the process of this selection is held to a higher level of transparency.”