Woodsworth refutes Concordia's explanation of her departure
MONTREAL - Former Concordia University president Judith Woodsworth told CTV Montreal on Wednesday that she did not leave her position just prior to Christmas for personal reasons, but that she was asked to leave by the school's Board of Governors.
In a telephone conversation with CTV Montreal's Cindy Sherwin, Woodsworth said she was "shocked" by the sudden news.
"I was told that some members of the Board had lost confidence in me," Woodsworth said.
Woodsworth added that she loves Concordia and would have been happy to continue in her role as president.
The revelation by Woodsworth is in stark contrast to the official explanation given by the school when it announced she was leaving on Dec. 22.
The Concordia Board of Governors refused interview requests Wednesday seeking reaction to a scathing letter released by the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) on Tuesday.
Concordia's media relations director Chris Mota told Sherwin on Wednesday that the school is standing by its initial explanation of Woodsworth's departure.
"The president left for personal reasons," said Mota, who spoke to Sherwin prior to her conversation with Woodsworth. "That's what the statement says, that's what I know."
CUFA's strongly-worded letter reprimanded the school's Board of Governors executive and demanded answers on questions of governance.
The letter, sent to all of CUFA's membership, to members of Concordia's Board of Governors and also published on the CUFA website, requests more transparency in the school's administration, particularly as it pertains to the departure of Woodsworth.
"The sudden departure of President Judith Woodsworth has left many of us stunned and shocked," begins the letter signed by CUFA president Lucie Lequin. "However, given Concordia's recent administrative history we should probably not have been surprised and we can only attempt to interpret this event in the context of that history."
The letter then goes on to point out that Woodsworth is the second university president to leave the post in a three and a half year period following the departure of Claude Lajeunesse, and both of them received sizeable severance packages the union called "golden parachutes."
In addition to this, the letter states, five vice-presidents at the university have resigned over the past "five or six years," alleging that most also left with "substantial monetary packages."
"The abrupt and puzzling departures of two university presidents and one vice-president academic (the chief academic officer of the university) are events of great academic importance and for which the faculty of the university are owed meaningful explanations by the Board of Governors," the letter states. "These have not been forthcoming."
Woodsworth agreed with this sentiment in her conversation with Sherwin on Wednesday.
"Yes, I would say there has been a lack of transparency on the part of a few members of the Board of Governors," she said.
The departure of Woodsworth combined with the departure of Lajeunesse before her has Lequin concerned about the future of the president's position at the university.
"Who is going to apply for this job knowing that the two prior presidents have been fired within two and a half years of their mandate?" Lequin told Sherwin on Wednesday.
The CUFA letter identifies several areas where it seeks answers from the university administration, starting with a request for an independent audit of "all extra payments made to former senior administrators" to find out if such payments are an appropriate use of largely public funds.
"Why does the executive of the Board refuse to operate in an open and transparent manner?" CUFA asks in the letter. "One day before the university closes, informing members of the Board and the president of CUFA of the departure of Dr. Woodsworth by phone, as a press release is simultaneously being released to the public at large, does not qualify as transparency."
It was that manner of releasing the news that also did not sit well with the Concordia Student Union.
"For this to happen right before everyone leaves for vacation, it's inconvenient and it's not right," CSU president Heather Lucas said.
Lequin added that she feels certain members of the Board of Governors are running Concordia as if it's a corporation.
"Either these people have to leave or they have to tell us what they have to offer the university," she said.
Mota, however, defended the school's process of selecting its presidents.
"The process has served the university well for very many years," Mota said. "The fact that two presidents have left in a short period of time is unfortunate, but people do leave."
An interim president will be announced this month, while the search for a permanent one could take up to a year.
The CUFA letter concludes by asking that full-time faculty members make their displeasure known about the current governance situation and what CUFA feels has become a growing disregard for the institution's academic mission.
"We have to take back our university so that it remains a university dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and not to more concrete and more bureaucratic cliché-mongering," the letter states. "We do value new buildings, but they will never constitute a university."