At least eight academic departments at Concordia University have passed damning motions against the school's board of governors, some explicitly expressing a loss of confidence in its ability to govern.
The motions make demands ranging from a review of the board's structure and actions to the resignation of governors. They are the strongest reactions yet to president Judith Woodsworth's abrupt and mysterious departure last month, which created a storm of speculation about troubled relations in the school's highest ranks.
The faculty members argue a lack of transparency and accountability from the board is battering the university's reputation, and even some board members seem unsure how the school lost its second president in slightly more than three years.
Concordia's board differs from those at most other prominent Canadian universities by size: It has 40 members, while others typically have between 20 and 25.
Seven years ago, nearby McGill University decided to trim its 45-member board of governors to 25. Emeritus chair Robert Rabinovitch said McGill's senior officials worried the board's unwieldy size was stunting debate at meetings, and he wanted "to be able to have real conversations at the board, real discussions."
"When you have a board of that size what happens is a sub-board, an inner group, develops - rarely officially. That's where the real decisions are taken, rather than [with]the board," he said.
Scrutiny of the way Concordia's board makes its decisions intensified last week when Dr. Woodsworth said she was asked to step down as president, contradicting an official statement that she had resigned "for personal reasons," which the university released just before closing for Christmas holidays.
A Jan. 12 open letter written by the six faculty members on Concordia's board expresses confusion at how Dr. Woodsworth's departure was decided, and support for the community's numerous calls "for greater transparency and accountability from the board of governors."
"No formal meeting of the board of governors was called, and neither was any formal vote taken in this regard. Those of us who were informally consulted made it very clear that we believed that president Woodsworth should complete her term," the letter reads.
The six governors sought "clarification about the process" from board chair Peter Kruyt, who replied in writing on Thursday.
"We highly value your input on important issues put before the board. That is why we consulted with you in December during deliberations about the need for the right leadership at this time for a university that is as dynamic as Concordia," writes Mr. Kruyt.
His letter also says he recalls those discussions being "very positive and productive," though they did not yield unanimity.
Mr. Kruyt declined to be interviewed, but said in an earlier statement that Concordia is on "solid footing." None of the six board members replied to interview requests.
In the coming months, Concordia's board is expected to vote on a proposal to trim its own membership to 25, resulting from a year-long, board-led review. The idea was spurred in 2009 by Quebec's Bill 38, which would have standardized the makeup of university boards but was later abandoned.
A report on the review says a smaller board "is a more appropriate venue for effective debate and engagement in discussion," and suggests streamlining a "somewhat dated" committee structure.
It also encourages a balancing of the presidential search committee that tapped Dr. Woodsworth after her predecessor, Claude Lajeunesse, was pushed out in 2007. The committee is dominated by board members from inside Concordia, while the full board has a majority of external appointees. But a faculty collective agreement blocks such a change until 2012.