Letter to the Editor – February 17, 2016

Inspiring Lives?

The Wilfrid Laurier University statue project has been halted after much valuable time and energy has been spent on debating its viability. Whether for or against the idea of putting up 22 statues of Canada’s prime ministers, there is still an outstanding issue of equal importance that should be of interest to all parties.

Should custodians indirectly pay for the administrative governance blunder and its economic fall out? The Special Advisory Committee delivered its report this month with the conclusion that the university withdraw from participating in the statue project. The SAC concluded that a critical lesson be taken from this experience, that being “the need for early and widespread community and stakeholder consultation.” This is good advice as well as a “politically correct” manner of dealing with a fiasco created by the WLU administration by not consulting with the WLU community in the first place.

One would think that this common sense conclusion might have been acted upon beforehand by the office of the president since this was clearly its mandate. By not seeking “community and stakeholder consultation” but instead acting singularly as Dave Caputo, the creator of the statue project, stated “Laurier approached us to do this” the office of the president not only breached its authority but also tainted WLU showing “dysfunctionality at Laurier” to quote Mr. Caputo rather than living up to Laurier’s motto of “Inspiring Lives.” It is an odd turn of events that an administration that was for putting up 22 statues of heads of our democracy has handled things from start to finish in a most undemocratic fashion.

With the lavish salaries paid to university presidents and other CEOs in this day and age one would think such glaring errors in administrative duty would be avoided since the salary level supposedly reflects a level of competence. So the office of the president does not own up to its  blunder nor publically apologize to Mr. Caputo or the WLU community even though its impeachable actions have caused so much riff and harm to Laurier both internally and to its  reputation in the larger community. That is bad enough but now injury is being added to insult.

If the statues project had proceeded, the university was going to fund the installation and maintenance costs. On the other hand, entailed with pulling out of the project are possible legal and other financial costs all due to the office of the president not following rules of governance. In the face of those realities the university is crying poverty and indirectly it seems that the economic burden must come from the backs of WLU’s custodial staff, one of the most vulnerable groups on campus. Why should custodians be bullied into cutbacks? If the university needs to tighten its belt then why was it planning on erecting statues and why now should custodians take on the economic burden of pulling out from the statue project? If WLU’s administration wants to truly “Inspire Lives” it should lead by example and reduce the growing number of top administrative positions and their bloated salaries.

The general on horseback would not “inspire” front line troops by shouting from behind  “Charge — go and sacrifice for our cause while I stay back unscathed!” Without leading by example “Inspiring Lives” is not only reduced to a hollow, if statuesque, phrase but also again goes against the spirit of the SAC conclusion of “the need for widespread community and stakeholder consultation.”

Has the Laurier community been consulted whether or not they want further damage to be done to WLU’s image by bullying custodians, the most vulnerable members of its community? The present tone of negotiations with Laurier’s custodians is not “inspiring” and indeed the university’s image is once again being tainted with those responsible passing the buck but not their buck.

Dr. Nelson K. Joannette

Faculty of Arts and Liberal Arts

Wilfrid Laurier University

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