Tag Archives: Concordia University

Concordia students get $650,000 out of a Rogers acquisition

Sportsnet records its president announcing its donation at Concordia University's journalism building on Wednesday.

Sportsnet records its president announcing its donation at Concordia University’s journalism building on Wednesday.

Concordia University journalism students will be getting a financial boost in the coming years thanks to a $650,000 donation from Rogers Sportsnet.

More than half of the donation will be used for scholarships for students over five years:

  • Six scholarships of $3,000 each to undergraduate students
  • Seven scholarships of $4,000 each to graduate diploma students
  • Two scholarships of $6,000 each to masters students
  • Two prizes of $8,500 each to students based on sports journalism portfolios

This works out to $75,000 a year, or $375,000 over the five years of the program. The rest of the money will be used for things like new equipment purchases and other stuff whose details haven’t been finalized, said Concordia journalism department chair Brian Gabrial.

Other than the $8,500 prizes listed above, the scholarships are not specifically sports-related.

Students and staff at Concordia celebrate their donation with Sportsnet president Scott Moore (third from left).

Students and staff at Concordia celebrate their donation with Sportsnet president Scott Moore (third from right).

The donation, the largest in the department’s history, was celebrated with a wine-and-hors-d’oeuvres event at Concordia’s journalism and communications building on the Loyola campus on Wednesday, with Concordia president Alan Shepard Sportsnet president Scott Moore in attendance.

But while this is great news for the university, it’s worth noting where this money is coming from. It’s not something Rogers is doing spontaneously out of the kindness of its heart, but rather a mandatory funding initiative linked to Rogers’s 2013 acquisition of The Score (which it turned into Sportsnet 360).

When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved the acquisition of the sports news television channel in 2013, it mandated that 10% of its purchase price (valued at $172 million) be spent on tangible benefits, or donations to programs and initiatives that benefit the broadcasting system as a whole. This is the CRTC’s way of mitigating the loss of diversity that comes from consolidation of ownership.

Rogers had originally proposed more than half of that going to something called the “Sportsnet Winter Games”, an annual amateur sports event. But the commission rejected that, saying it was worried that this would be self-serving. Instead, Rogers broke down the proposed benefits as follows:

  • $5 million for a Sportsnet Independent Production Fund
  • $5 million for a Canadian University Sports Initiative
  • $2.5 million for digital media produciton scholarships
  • $4.7 million for amateur independent sports production

Moore confirmed that the $650,000 donation to Concordia comes out of this tangible benefits package, which has to be paid out over five years. He said internal bureaucracy at Rogers, combined with some major distractions, caused them to get a slow start on this.

Gabrial credits Bob Babinski for helping get this done. Babinski worked with Moore at CBC Sports, and after Moore moved to Rogers Media, he hired Babinski to launch City Montreal. Moore said he called up Babinski and asked about Concordia’s journalism program, and then Sportsnet approached Concordia asking them to put together a proposal.

Moore referred to the donation as an “investment” in the future of journalism. That’s a nice sentiment, though the CRTC rules prevent any quid pro quo.

Other Sportsnet university initiatives include the Sportsnet U Recruited program. Its first recruit is Julian McKenzie, a Concordia journalism student, former sports editor at The Link and producer at CJLO 1690 AM. After the event, McKenzie had lunch with Moore.

A fake Concordian front page announcing the donation.

A fake Concordian front page announcing the donation.

10-year-old documentary an insight into insanity of student politics

I recently discovered that Concordia University’s television club has posted to YouTube a 10-year-old documentary called Student Politics. Directed by Sergeo Kirby, who would later produce other documentaries including Wal-Town, it tells the story of a student election at Concordia University in 2003. I appear a few times in the film giving somewhat incoherent commentary.

The time from 2000 to 2004 was a crazy one for Concordia and its student political bodies, and I was fortunate to have spent that time as a student journalist covering student politics. My first year, there was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving the VP finance writing 50 blank cheques to herself, and then a war between the student government and the student newspaper that resulted in the latter being shut down over a summer. My second year, an unprecedented popular impeachment campaign fuelled mainly by a post-9/11 backlash against radical activism, and an executive by-election that was derailed after a bribery scandal and ended in the election result being annulled. My third year, a controversial visit by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that triggered a riot, a very controversial moratorium on free speech related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a rush to the ballot box to replace radical left-wingers with a more moderate mainstream in the student executive.

Student Politics tells the story of that third year, about the heated battle between left and right (though it’s simplistic to describe the two factions in such terms), and the dynasty change that came after thousands of students from the apathetic majority finally decided they’d had enough. (That dynasty, which turned out to be no less corrupt than the leftist one, would stay in power for several years. By the time it disappeared, the left-right divide had largely faded away or been replaced by other pressing political divides.)

Highlights of the film include a point at the 22-minute mark that shows the campaigns, gathered in the lobby of Concordia’s Henry F. Hall building on de Maisonneuve Blvd., rushing through the building at midnight on the first day of campaigning to plaster every wall they can find with their posters. It’s an absurd indication of how seriously both sides took their campaigns back then.

(It’s also not the first time that year that I ran up that set of escalators in a panic trying to avoid a stampede.)

Other documentaries were made about that year at Concordia, though this was the only one to focus on student politics specifically. The other two focused on the Netanyahu riot and the conflict between students supporting the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the Middle East conflict. I wrote about them a few years ago. There was Discordia, which is on he NFB’s website, which told the personal stories of the people behind this campus conflict. And there was Confrontation at Concordia, a heavily biased anti-Palestinian rant that aired on Global television. (It was originally posted to Google Video, but that no longer exists. A few minutes of it can be seen on YouTube.) The latter led to complaints to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, which found that although it obviously had a point of view, it didn’t engage in unethical practices or violate any broadcast standards to express it.

Student Politics isn’t the best documentary in the world. It was the effort of a first-time filmmaker. And I can’t really evaluate how well it tells a story I already know so well. But it’s a nice trip down memory lane to a time when the pettiness of student politics reached its peak.

And also a sad reminder of how much my hairline has receded in the past decade.

Concordia broadcasters want a bigger audience

CJLO's AM antenna in Ville St. Pierre

Concordia University’s student-run television and radio stations are always looking up, looking for ways to grow. It’s been more than a decade now that both have gotten their funding directly from students instead of through the Concordia Student Union. They’ve since split their funding sources and have asked students for increases in their per-credit student fees.

CJLO, the radio station, has been transmitting at 1690 kHz since 2008, out of an antenna in Ville St. Pierre, just down the hill from its Loyola studio. It produces a full schedule of programming, most of it music-based but with some talk and information programs as well. But the 1 kilowatt transmitter on AM doesn’t reach out very far, and many students don’t have AM radios.

CUTV, the television station, has never had a broadcasting license. It can be seen on televisions on campus and on its website. Though it does produce a significant amount of programming, it’s nowhere near enough to fill a full schedule without repeating every program dozens of times.

Both stations are looking to increase their reach through new ways of broadcasting, and to do that they each need more money, so both are in the process of asking students for yet another increase in their per-credit fees.

In a referendum of Concordia Student Union members Tuesday to Thursday this week, CJLO is asking for an increase from 25 to 34 cents per credit. This works out to $10.20 a year for a full-time student taking five classes a semester. CUTV is asking for an increase from 18 cents to 34 cents per credit, which would almost double its funding.

UPDATE (Dec. 3): Both questions passed, The Link reports. Following a rubber-stamp from the university’s board, the fees will be applied to students’ tuition bills.

Broadcasting equipment at CJLO's offices, sending its signal online and to its AM transmitter

The plans

Here’s what they want to do to make themselves more accessible.

CJLO wants to setup a low-power FM retransmitter downtown, which would cover the downtown campus. “The frequency we are looking at is around 10 city blocks and no commercial station seems to want it,” station manager Stephanie Saretsky tells me. “We have been told by our AM consultant that the response from the CRTC should be favorable because of this fact. Obviously nothing is guarenteed, but CJLO cannot start the application process without the fee levy.”

The CRTC has said there isn’t more space on the FM dial in Montreal (106.7 is an exception, now that it has been vacated by Aboriginal Voices Radio and the pirate station KKIC, but an application is pending to use that frequency). But the city is saturated only in terms of high-powered stations. There are options available for low-power transmitters covering a small area, and this seems to be what CJLO is looking for – something just to cover the downtown campus, so students can tune in between classes.

CUTV, meanwhile, doesn’t want to setup a broadcast transmitter, but it does want to get on cable television, where most viewers are anyway. CUTV’s plan is to apply to the CRTC for a community channel license, which would require cable systems to carry the channel. In the short term, the station is looking to get time on VOX, the community channel run by Videotron.

Both plans are admirable, though the campaigns by both groups are tying the increased funding to the new broadcast licenses. Neither group has actually applied for one yet, and the likelihood of success is far from absolute. Getting a new FM transmitter in Montreal – even a low-power one – isn’t easy, particularly if it’s just retransmitting another station. The CRTC process is hardly a formality or a rubber-stamp. For CUTV, the group would have to convince the CRTC to give it a channel on the cable dial even though there already exists a television station in Montreal devoted to programming from its four universities – Canal Savoir.

And it goes without saying that if these applications fail, neither of these groups is going to voluntarily reduce its student fee.

Still, I wish them luck. CJLO deserves to be heard, and a low-power retransmitter covering just the downtown campus makes a lot of sense. CUTV, meanwhile, has a lot of promise, but without a continuous outlet there isn’t much incentive to produce sufficient quality of quantity of television programming.

Concordia’s Link newspaper: A hypocritical lack of transparency?

The following is a letter to the editor I submitted to The Link, one of Concordia University’s student newspapers, where I worked for four years in an editorial capacity and sat for two years on its board of directors. It’s having its annual general assembly on Friday, which is the one time every year where all fee-paying members (that is, all Concordia students) have the right to vote.

It’s a scary time, because student politicians have been known to try to take advantage of that right to try to exact revenge on editors who have criticized them, or try to take control over the paper to change how it covers the news.

But I think the paper has gone too far in trying to shield itself from this perceived menace.

Dear editor,

As a former Concordia student and Link editor, I always make sure to pick up a copy of my old newspaper every time I’m near the campus. I’ve been reading with interest the paper’s coverage of the Concordia Student Union election and the dismissal of President Judith Woodsworth by the university’s Board of Governors. In coverage of both those issues, you called for increased transparency and accountability on the part of both student and university governments, and rightfully so.

But something I noticed has made me wonder if the next target of your demand for increased transparency shouldn’t be The Link itself.

As I write this, you and other members of the Link Publication Society (essentially, all Concordia students who bother showing up) are hours away from taking part in its annual general assembly, in which you appoint members to the paper’s board of directors, approve constitutional amendments and do other boring stuff that has nothing to do with the paper’s editorial content.

At the bottom of your notice for this meeting is written the following: “Constitutional amendments are available at the Link office.”

What’s notable about this is that it means this list is not available anywhere else. The proposed constitutional amendments were not printed in the paper. They are not available on the website (for that matter, neither is the constitution itself). The Link’s board is proposing changes to the rules that govern the way the organization runs and seems to be doing everything in its power to make it difficult for students to find out what those changes are. (I can only imagine what you make students go through if they want to see the amendments. Do they have to show ID? Are they allowed to take a copy out of the office or make notes? Are they monitored while they read them?)

I believe this is being done intentionally to prevent as many students as possible from seeing the proposed amendments before the meeting, in case any may disagree with them and want to round up support to vote them down.

It’s a perfectly understandable and justifiable fear. But it’s still wrong.

I don’t say this lightly. I know more than most the dangers of student politicians coming to this one meeting a year when they have the power to vote and using that power to take control of the paper for the sole purpose of affecting its editorial content. I know because I lived it in 2001.

Back then, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had taken over all other political discussion at the university, and editorial decisions of The Link caused a rift between the paper and members of a Palestinian activist group and the CSU. Enemies of the paper protested and passed around a petition calling for The Link to be shut down. They later used sheer numbers to take over the general assembly, appoint sympathetic students to the board and demand changes to the bylaws.

The result was a nasty political tug of war between Link editorial staff and student activists that caused the paper to be shut down over the summer.

In the years that followed, I proposed changes to The Link’s bylaws that strengthened its protections from those who would seek to control it for political reasons. (Those protections may still be in place. I don’t know for sure, because I don’t have access to The Link’s constitution.) I learned that increased transparency helps the free press more than it hinders, even if it may sometimes seem in the paper’s best interest to try to manipulate its own democratic processes.

It’s a delicate balancing act between having a newspaper that is free of political control and having one that is accountable to its members and properly protected from itself. But secrecy doesn’t protect The Link from politicians. It only serves to make it unaccountable and untransparent. And that makes it wrong.

I read with interest your recent decision to increase the use of your website by moving breaking news there. You can make a big leap in transparency by also posting your bylaws, constitutional amendments and board meeting minutes.

Transparency is scary in a world where knowledge is power. But The Link is strong. And if any politicians try to take it over again, I’ll be the first to run down there with a picket sign and make sure they don’t succeed.

Please reconsider your policy.

Steve Faguy, B.CompSc 2004, GrDip Journ. 2005

Editor-in-Chief 2003-04

It may seem petty to care about how a university newspaper announces constitutional amendments half a decade after graduating from that university (sadly, I know people who have been gone longer and still care more). But I don’t think anyone else knows this issue as well as I do, and something compels me to write to them about it.

UPDATE: A shortened version of this letter (to meet their 400-word limit) appeared in Tuesday’s Link. Its editor says the paper is open to adding these documents online.

Concordia reaches for a new Lowy

Frederick Lowy in 2003

It’s official: Concordia University’s executive committee has recommended that Frederick Lowy, who served as rector/president from 1995 to 2005, be reinstalled as interim president. Barring some unprecedented and unexpected revolt, the Board of Governors will approve that recommendation and Lowy will run the university again during the months it takes for a committee to seek out a president to take a full five-year term.

I was a student from 2000 to 2005, and I wrote about student and university politics for The Link, so I know Lowy pretty well and have interviewed him a few times during some of the most heated moments of Concordia’s recent history.

Other leaders have been in office during Concordia’s darker moments. John W. O’Brien came to office in the immediate aftermath of the Sir George Williams computer riots of 1969, and stayed on through Concordia’s creation until 1984. Patrick Kenniff took over and acted as rector during the Fabrikant shootings, until political infighting got him fired.

Nobody killed anyone (that I know of) during Lowy’s tenure, but that didn’t mean it was easy for him. During three successive years he got hit with a major scandal involving students. In the fall of 2000, it was a $200,000 embezzlement scandal involving a member of the Concordia Student Union’s executive. In the fall of 2001, it was a radical student union executive whose highly radical student agenda was a victim of unfortunate timing, coming out in the days surrounding Sept. 11. This was followed by a revolt from mainly engineering and commerce students who forced the CSU president to resign, only to see the subsequent by-election (which the “right wing” candidate won) annulled as a result of an apparent bribery scandal. Then in the fall of 2002, a protest against a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu got out of hand and made headlines around the world.

During these turbulent years, Lowy was caught between a radical student union and increasingly angry donors and alumni.

Lowy (whether individually or with his executive committee or vice-rectors) made some tough decisions during those times. The university temporarily cut off funding for the student union as the legitimacy of its leadership came into question. It expelled (or “excluded”) two of the more radical student activists, which was controversial at the time because it bypassed the university’s own student disciplinary process (the university argued that the two were not technically students at the time, which sparked a surreal debate over the fact that Concordia did not technically have a clear definition of what “student” meant). And it famously banned all activity on campus related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the immediate aftermath of that Netanyahu riot – a move that was an obvious violation of a fundamental right to free speech, but accomplished its goal of cooling down both sides.

Through it all, Lowy was soft-spoken, kind of halfway between a kind, wise grandfather and a man without a clue. Perhaps it was his background in psychiatry, but Lowy was a pressure release valve at a time when it was most needed.

That’s not to say he was perfect. The things that made him a good peacemaker also made him incapable of standing up to his board or of making any serious changes in the way the university was structured.

Whether he was a good leader or not is up for debate, though he certainly seems more so in hindsight than he did at the time.

What’s not up for debate is the simple fact that Lowy is the only leader in the past 20 years to leave office amicably, at the end of his mandate. For a university desperate for a temporary, quick-fix return to stability, they could have done far worse than look to Lowy.

Working on the Gazette’s online desk today, I took the liberty of pulling some articles from the archives about Lowy. It’s funny looking back to see that Lowy’s challenge in 1995 was to improve morale and improve the mood and add more civility to internal politics. When he left, he got good marks, suggesting he succeeded.

The Clique de Concordia

Judith Woodsworth and some of the Concordia board members who may or may not choose to eventually find out why she left her position as president

I find myself, more than anything else, amused that everyone is focusing on Concordia University’s Board of Governors in the wake of the sudden departure of its president, Judith Woodsworth.

When I was a student at the university from 2000 to 2005, I tried to attend as many of these board meetings as I could, to get an idea of how the university operates. It didn’t take me long to figure out how things work there.

Like many other such bodies, the Board of Governors is largely a rubber-stamp organization. The big decisions are taken at the level of the executive committee, who presents them to the board as a fait accompli. Sometimes there is debate – particularly when someone outside the ruling clique has a problem with the decision – but the result of the eventual vote is rarely in doubt.

Strange definition of “community”

Concordia’s Board of Governors is made up of 40 voting members. The largest group – and one which by itself forms a majority – is 23 people selected from among the “community at large”. The others are a mix of faculty (6), staff (1), students (5) and alumni (3), each appointed by their respective associations, plus the president and chancellor.

A look at the list of those representing the “community at large”, and you see the words “chairman”, “president and chief executive officer” and “corporate director” a lot. They’re all from the crowd you see at black-tie galas for hospital foundations (in fact, many members of the board are also on the boards of hospital foundations), not the ones setting up community gardens or organizing festivals or doing all the other stuff you think of when you think “community”.

The biggest problem with this group is that it is de facto self-appointed. The board has a nominating committee, which recommends candidates to the board, which appoints them to a body called the Corporation of Concordia University (whose makeup is identical to the board), who then appoints them to the board. The “community at large” group forms a majority on each of these bodies.

The inherent problem with this setup has been obvious to the Concordia Student Union for more than a decade. But they control only four seats on the board. Occasionally, they might get support from the one graduate student, but their cause is always a losing one. Faculty, staff and the general public weren’t on the side of the crazy anarchists.

Questions from unexpected places

The sudden departure of President Judith Woodsworth just before Christmas was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Concordia’s previous supposedly-permanent president, Claude Lajeunesse, also left well before his first mandate was to end, and also for reasons that were never made clear. Meanwhile, the university has lost a lot of other senior administrators over the past couple of years.

Now people are starting to take notice. Donald Boisvert, who was the university’s dean of students while I was a student there, wrote a piece in The Gazette demanding an explanation from the board. Lucie Lequin, president of Concordia’s faculty association, wrote a public letter to members (PDF) saying they should also demand to know why so much money is being spent forcing senior administrators to leave.

The situation has attracted the attention of the news media. Peggy Curran, The Gazette’s universities reporter, is writing a piece every day or two about it. On Saturday, an article in the Globe and Mail. Chris Mota, the university’s official spokesperson, has been working overtime the past couple of weeks doing interviews for TV and radio, trying to explain a statement that Woodsworth herself has reportedly admitted isn’t true.

Meanwhile, that “community at large” group remains silent. The chair, Peter Kruyt, and the other members of the board have not been heard from. A complete blackout on public statements.

Time to shine some light

Clearly someone needs to step in and demand explanations. Unfortunately, the only body with the power to overrule the Board of Governors is the Quebec government, and they have shown a strong reluctance to do so in the past. We don’t know yet whether this latest scandal will be enough for them to step in.

If they do, though, questions should be raised not only about the process for hiring and firing senior administrators, but about whether there is something inherently wrong with an organization that controls millions of dollars having a self-appointed board of directors. The government should investigate whether this is a good idea, or whether it is likely to lead to the formation of a clique, conflicts of interest, and the negative consequences that come with it.

Concordia, like all universities, is a publicly-funded institution. It needs to be responsible to the public.

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The journalists of tomorrow

Students of Concordia University's journalism graduate diploma program

Almost a month ago, The Gazette went through a yearly tradition of inviting journalism students into its office and handing out some awards (read: small bursaries) to those who have stood out among their peers.

This evening went on like others have before it, with the students being invited into the office and being served wine and cheese before some people they don’t know introduce other people they don’t know and hand out bursaries named after people they don’t know.

But there was a big difference this year: a new bursary, named after someone else they didn’t know.

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Concordia’s new tunnel is about ready

View of the tunnel from just outside the turnstiles at the Guy metro

A tunnel connecting the Guy metro station to Concordia University’s Hall Building and library building downtown is finally complete, and the finishing touches are being applied before it’s open to the public.

Great timing. Just when people finally want to venture outside again, we have an excuse not to.

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So bad, it makes the CSU look good

The annual Concordia Student Union elections used to be a lot more interesting, with articles in real newspapers and everything.

But this week, even though the drama on campus seemed to be just as big as every year (The Link this week was filled with election stories – PDF), nobody really cared off-campus.

Part of it is that the left-right divide that polarized student politics 5-10 years ago doesn’t exist anymore. Looking at the two parties that ran this year, I couldn’t figure out which party was on which side.

In the end, the party that was expected to win did so handily, with 73% of the student vote, 26 of 29 seats on the Council of Representatives, all four elected seats on the university’s senate and both elected seats on the Board of Governors.

But that wasn’t the big story of this election.

Instead, the big issue was on the referendum ballot, and questions about fees.

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Just give money, m’kay?

Mittens for Haiti!

I passed by this donation bin setup at Concordia for Haiti. In it, I saw bags with scarves, winter coats, and mittens.

I’m guessing they were from people who have never been to Haiti, and who aren’t experts in meteorology. (Or, as someone comments below, hopefully for Haitian refugees coming here, which would save on shipping costs.)

The difficulty in getting supplies (particularly the right ones) to disaster zones is one of the reasons charities ask you to give money instead of stuff. A lot of stuff, unfortunately, is useless.

Hope for Haiti Now is on until 10 p.m. on CBC, CTV, Global, CityTV, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, Vermont Public Television, CNN, MuchMusic, MTV Canada, National Geographic Channel, WGN, WPIX and BET. Quebec’s Ensemble pour Haïti airs on Radio-Canada, TVA, V, Télé-Québec, TV5, LCN, RDI, MusiMax and Musique Plus.

Remember if you’re watching the U.S. special to donate to Canadian charities to take advantage of the government’s donation matching program 1-877-51-HAITI or canadaforhaiti.com.

The Expos Five Years Later

Elias Makos, who used to work in the Expos’ marketing department before the franchise moved in 2004, moderated a panel at the recent sports journalism workshop at Concordia University looking at Montreal’s major-league baseball team.

And, fortunately for us, his work teaching Concordia students to handle video has come in handy here, and the entire hour-long discussion is available on YouTube:

It has more to do with the Expos and sports business than journalism, but it’s still a fascinating look at what went wrong with this franchise from people who know.

The panel includes:

Jack Todd, of course, also has some thoughts on the matter, which he shared in a column. His talk at the conference is recorded audio-only here, though there’s a lot of noise.

Another championship for Montreal

Hey, remember that Concordia University baseball team I talked about last week?

Concordia University baseball champions (photo by Al Fournier)

Concordia University baseball champions (photo by Al Fournier)

They won the national championship this weekend. This despite losing two of three games in round-robin play. They won a quarterfinal tiebreaker, and then their semifinal match and the championship final of the … uhh … six-team tournament.

Go Stingers!

Concordia’s baseball team

Concordia journalism students François Nadeau and Steven Myers put together this short video documentary with the help of CUTV. It features some interviews with members of Concordia’s baseball team.

(See Part 2)

Concordia baseball has been trying for years to get the kind of recognition that high-profile sports like football and hockey get, though they say the university has been immensely supportive of their efforts.

Insert your own joke about Jeffrey Loria and the Expos here.

UPDATE: I should mention the team is going to the national championships. Let’s hope Rick Monday isn’t there.

UPDATE (Oct. 26): They won! National champions! W00t!