Concordia University Magazine

Frederick H. Lowy: Portrait of a Leader

When Frederick H. Lowy arrived at Concordia in 1995, the university was still reeling from the 1992 fatal shootings of four engineering professors and, in the aftermath, a damaged reputation and low morale. The start of severe cuts in government funding added to the university's challenges. Ten years later, as Dr. Lowy concludes two terms as the university's president, Concordia is thriving with five new buildings, hundreds of new professors, updated programs and solid enrolment. His leadership has set Concordia on a confident course towards new levels of achievement.

President Frederick Lowy

“I enjoyed the whole experience here, I have no regrets. These are going to be 10 memorable years for me,” says Frederick Lowy, M.D., O.C., of his terms as Concordia’s fourth rector and first president, since the change of title in June 2004. Photo by Christian Fleury

Frederick Lowy admits that when he was first approached about taking on the executive administrative post at Concordia just over a decade ago, he was more than a little surprised — and he wasn’t terribly interested. His background was altogether in medicine, he notes, and there is no medical school at Concordia. “I said, ‘You’ve got the wrong person. Why me?’ ” he recalls.

But peers, including Bernard Shapiro, then the newly appointed principal of McGill University, persuaded Dr. Lowy to come to Concordia to have a look. When he did, he liked what he saw. “I met with a number of people here and I became more and more interested in Concordia, recognizing first of all that it had been through a difficult patch, but that the potential of this place was great, as it still is,” he says. “I became very eager to get the job because I liked the atmosphere, I liked the objectives of the university, and I liked the notion of openness and accessibility and responsiveness to students.”

Uprooting to Montreal came with a lot of personal adjustments, above all for Dr. Lowy’s wife, psychoanalyst Mary Kay O’Neil, who disrupted her practice in Toronto for the move. She had never lived in Quebec before, whereas he had spent formative years here. Born in 1933 in Grosspetersdorf, Austria, Fred Lowy moved to Montreal at age 13 and attended the legendary Baron Byng High School (the alma mater of novelist Mordecai Richler, Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish and geneticist Leonard Pinsky, to name a few). Following medical school at McGill University, Dr. Lowy started his career in psychiatry working in the 1960s at Montreal’s Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal Neurological Institute and Allan Memorial Institute. He then became a professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry from 1974 to 1995, where he served terms as department chair and dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and founded the U of T’s Centre for Bioethics.

Upon his return to Montreal, Dr. Lowy came to the decision not to try to maintain a medical practice. “I decided that I would give myself properly to the job here at Concordia and resume my practice, if at all, at some future time.”

Arriving at the university, Dr. Lowy says he found the number one problem to be floundering spirit and some malaise in the academic community due to the 1992 shootings as well as draconian governmental budget cuts. Second, the university needed to develop an academic plan. Finally, about 40 per cent of Concordia’s activities took place in rented space, some of which was decidedly unsuitable for academic purposes. Dr. Lowy set about remedying these ailments.

Among the administration’s primary tasks was to address the substantial budget cuts to Quebec universities. Early retirement offers to faculty and staff enabled the university to put its financial house in order. Senior administrators, deans and department chairs then set about rethinking the educational goals of Concordia’s academic programs. The priorities they identified were the hiring, retention and development of full-time faculty; enhancement of Concordia’s competitiveness for research funds; strengthening of pedagogical skills for the information technology age; and greater access to higher education and better tools for students.

Some Bumps

Fred Lowy outside the new Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex

Dr. Lowy’s time at Concordia has not been without its troubles. Several years of conflict with the Concordia Student Union (CSU) were the most important challenge faced by his administration, he feels. Early on, the corps of radical student activists engaged in aggressive anti-establishment and anti-business activities, such as disrupting professional recruiters on campus, which upset students in the business and engineering faculties. Re-elected to another term, the CSU executive published a student agenda, Uprising, which offered militant support for Palestinian causes, among other provocations. Many people were offended by its contents. Then came the protest and violence in 2002 that prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Concordia, an incident that led two years later to the university delaying Ehud Barak’s visit to campus for security concerns.

“In retrospect, we are all wiser,” Lowy says. “We, the administration, did not take a sufficiently strong stand at that time. We basically preferred to work with the CSU as the elected representatives, but that was not their objective. We wasted our time. Instead, we should have actually been much firmer drawing the line on certain activities,” he says.

New focus

Frederick Lowy

Controversies aside, there has been extraordinary development on all fronts in the past decade. Since Dr. Lowy’s arrival, the faculties have recruited more than 400 professors, who have brought fresh research strengths and focuses. Concordia has been increasingly winning highly competitive research funding from external granting agencies — over $37 million in 2003-04, almost threefold the $12.8 million in external research funding received in 1994-95. The state-of-the-art Richard J. Renaud Science Complex is moving Concordia to the forefront of scientific research in Canada, while the Integrated Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex to open in the fall will provide an advanced environment for the engineering and fine arts faculties. Another modern building is still to be built for the John Molson School of Business. Concordia has seen record levels of enrolment in recent years and has worked hard to meet the corresponding need for more financial support for students. The university has also focused on restructuring its course offerings to meet shifting demands in the workforce due to burgeoning information technologies.

“We’re not yet the best university in Canada,” says Dr. Lowy. “I think we are moving gradually, more rapidly in some areas, towards first-tier status, but there is a lot to be done still.”

Dr. Lowy rightfully remains proud of his contributions.“We have a very devoted group of people in this university and things are really moving in the right direction. There is a lot to be positive about.”

10 Years that Built a New Era

Tree planting at the opening of the Science Complex

Dr. Lowy with Quebec Premier Jean Charest, Richard Renaud and Martin Singer, planting a ceremonial tree at the opening of the Richard J. Renaud Science Complex, September 2003.

Visionary. Builder. A true leader. These words reverberate when people reflect on Dr. Frederick H. Lowy and his decade at Concordia. Indeed, across Concordia, vigorous intellectual activity is flourishing, announcing a new era of modern science and business, engineering and art innovation. Dr. Lowy is widely credited with this transformation, for leading the formation of a modern academic plan and inspiring the participation of key business and community leaders in the university’s development. As Dr. Lowy’s term as president and vice-chancellor of Concordia comes to a close, Concordia University Magazine looks back at his key accomplishments.

Dr. Lowy with Garry Milton

Dr. Lowy with Garry Milton, executive director of the Office of the President, cutting Concordia’s 25th anniversary cake, November 2000.

Team Building One of Dr. Lowy’s first tasks was to a build solid, collegial administrative team and restore internal cohesion and a sense of direction to Concordia. Senior administrative portfolios were restructured, while his open management style motivated administrators to improve the quality of academic programs across the faculties and ensure that recruitment, hiring and services be driven by academic goals.

Academic Vision Soon after his arrival, Dr. Lowy helped initiate a comprehensive academic planning process to streamline Concordia’s academic activities. More than 150 programs were restructured, and others suspended, with a view to providing programs that respond to modern developments and societal needs. New certificate and diploma programs also have been developed accordingly.

Dr. Lowy with students

Dr. Lowy with student organizers at the launch of the “Banner for Peace” in the Hall Building, September 2001.

Enrolment Growth In both undergraduate and graduate programs, enrolment has increased substantially year by year, without the lowering of admission standards. In 2003-04, Concordia enrolled a record total of 40,000 students, with about 32,000 students in credit courses and another 8,000 in non-credit continuing education courses. For an increasing number of university programs, applications greatly exceed capacity, and the overall entering grade point average continues to climb even as the total enrolment climbs. The numbers of students pursuing their studies full time as well as graduation rates have also been rising.

New Faculty Core Between 1995 and 1999, nearly 25 per cent of the full-time faculty of the university (179 professors) took early retirement and retirement packages, which Concordia had offered as a response to massive cuts in government funding. Based on priorities established through the academic planning process, since 1995-96 the university has hired more than 430 new tenure-track professors from around the world, now constituting 48 per cent of the university’s full-time faculty.

Research Prominence The presence of this new generation of professors has dramatically changed the research focus at Concordia, with new professors in growth areas such as software engineering, biomedical science, business, information systems, aviation management, computer animation and multimedia. Concordia professors attracted over $37 million in competitive external grants in 2003-04, the highest awarded to the university in its history. In addition, Concordia houses 29 internationally recognized research centres and institutes. As well, Concordia Research Chairs were created to encourage distinguished faculty members active in research to remain at the university.

To date, there are 30 Concordia Research Chairs, and a total of more than 50 research-oriented chairs at the university.

Dr. Lowy at the Shuffle

Dr. Lowy with JMSB faculty coordinator Nancy Stewart at the Shuffle, October 2004.

Innovative Initiatives As a response to issues of the day, Concordia began a number of initiatives over the past decade: the Loyola International College, launched in 2002, offers undergraduate students an interdisciplinary education through the exploration of some of the critical issues that shaped the 20th century, including internationalization and globalization; and the Peace and Conflict Resolution Lecture Series, a succession of academic events related to peace and the management of deep-rooted conflicts, kicked off in 2003.

Frederick and Mary Kay Lowy with Martin Singer

Dr. Lowy with Arts and Science Dean Martin Singer and wife Mary Kay Lowy on the Renaud Science Complex construction site, May 2002.

Bold Building Concordia’s new buildings represent Dr. Lowy’s most tangible contribution to the university. Concordia now boasts a new science complex that has effectively revitalized the Loyola Campus; a sleek engineering, computer science and fine arts complex to open in the fall; and a drastically revamped Drummond Building for journalism and communication studies, reopening this fall. The acquisition of the Grey Nuns motherhouse in 2004 adds a historic landmark and green space to the downtown campus. Extensive renovations to the Hall Building and the construction of a new building for the John Molson School of Business will complete the project. The new buildings have been financed through a combination of government grants, private donations and a $200-million bond issue.

International reputation

Dr. Lowy with Amin A. Mahmoud, president of Al-Ahliyya Amman University in Jordan, and professor Balbir Sahni, director of Concordia’s Centre for International Academic Cooperation, signing a letter of understanding, October 2001.

International Reputation Under Dr. Lowy, Concordia has worked to strengthen its international profile through increased research collaborations and exchanges with top institutions around the world, and it currently has agreements with institutions in some 30 countries. The addition of world-renowned researchers and professors to the faculty ranks and enrolment of international students are also working towards moving Concordia into the first rank of Canadian universities.

Rising Endowments From the onset, Dr. Lowy directed significant energy towards consolidating the university’s fundraising work, cultivating critical external and community support, and building Concordia’s endowment fund. The Campaign for a New Millennium, 1996-99, far exceeded its goal of $55 million and passed $77 million. Over the decade, the Concordia University Foundation, created in 1995, has grown from $8 million to $110 million. The university advancement portfolio was consolidated with the appointment of Concordia’s first Vice-President, Advancement & Alumni Relations, in January 2005.

Alumni Affinity The number of alumni in contact with the university, along with the number of alumni activities in cities around the world, continues to increase. Alumni contributing to the annual giving and other campaigns now represent some 16 per cent of known graduates, doubling since 1995. Many graduates support Concordia through participation on the university’s Board of Governors and faculty-based advisory boards, and as unofficial ambassadors throughout Canada and around the world. Alumni chapters are active in major Canadian cities and in New York, London, Paris, Beirut and Hong Kong. And in 2001 the university and the Concordia University Alumni Association formalized their relationship through a memorandum of understanding.

Challenges Ahead
Of course, challenges remain for Concordia’s new leader (see sidebar, p.13), but thanks to Dr. Lowy’s steady handling of university operations over a critical decade in its history, many are entirely positive. In light of the significant progress in the past 10 years, the new president can expect to continue Concordia’s course towards becoming a first-rate university through continued faculty hiring, ongoing appraisal of its academic programs, careful enrolment targets that balance accessibility and academic vigour — and communication of the dramatic academic transformation and the realities of the new Concordia, brought about by the vision of Dr. Frederick Lowy.

Reflections on How Fred Led

Martin Singer

Martin Singer, Provost and Vice-President, Academic Affairs, and former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, 1997-2004:
Dr. Lowy’s leadership, which is really based on his personal integrity, has helped the university substantially turn around, both in terms of morale inside the community and in terms of donors and alumni. Ten years ago, the university was at a pretty low point in the aftermath of a number of disasters, and Dr. Lowy managed to take a university that felt bad about itself and make it into a leading university in Canada. Concordia’s endowment has grown from under $10 million to over $110 million. We have built five new buildings. The university is now 40 per cent bigger, and half of the professors are new. International stature is really high. I attribute all these accomplishments to Dr. Lowy — he created an environment where all this could happen.

On a personal level, I consider him to be a mentor of my own administrative work.

Rick Renaud

Rick Renaud, L BComm 69, Chairman & CEO, TNG Corporation:
Dr. Lowy came at a very difficult time in the university’s history. He helped bring a sense of purpose and direction to Concordia that encouraged us to believe in ourselves. He brought humanity and built a team to bring us to the next level — we can see the results in many areas, in the new buildings, the regeneration of the professoriate, and rising student enrolment and quality of students. Ultimately, he brought us respect from the community.

Enza De Cubellis and Rosie Meldonian

Enza De Cubellis, BA 97, Executive Assistant to the President, and Rosie Meldonian, Executive Secretary, Office of the President:
Everyone knows Dr. Lowy as the distinguished leader, healer and visionary who championed Concordia University, despite some of its greatest challenges, through its most remarkably successful decade.

However, few except perhaps those of us working most closely with him have had the privilege of bearing witness to, and being inspired by, a noble man whose commitment and dedication to this university has never, ever wavered. When the demands on his time were even more tremendous than usual, we’d ask how he would manage. He’d reply, “I don’t need much sleep.” When circumstances were particularly difficult, we’d ask how he would cope. He’d respond, “It’s part of my job.”

Yet regardless of how early his day began, how late into the evening it went, whatever part of the world he was flying to and from, and however many meetings in the day, he always asked us how we were doing, inquired about our families and wrote us thank-you notes.

It has been our honour to work with Dr. Lowy. We wish him all the best for the future.

Leonard Ellen

Leonard Ellen, LLD 03, Chairman of Leonard Ellen Canada Inc.; honorary treasurer for the Campaign for a New Millennium; Concordia governor emeritus:
The university saw dramatic and exciting change under Dr. Lowy’s leadership. In the mid-’80s, I was elected to the Board of Governors. I was very involved with the university before Dr. Lowy arrived, having served on many committees, and so this made me familiar with many things taking place at Concordia. We lived through a period where there was much dissension, turmoil and dislocation, culminating in the killing of four leading professors, which was absolutely traumatic. Dr. Lowy brought an aura of tranquility and excitement and got everyone enthusiastic and involved. He strengthened the university’s finances, and the changes have been monumental.

I have great respect for Fred Lowy. He has integrity beyond reproach. His honesty and management skills will be very hard to replace.

Lillian Vineberg

Lillian Vineberg, BFA 83, former chair of the Board of Governors, 1999-2003:
Dr. Lowy listens, hears and leads. He arrived at Concordia when these skills were most needed. As a psychiatrist and ethicist, he understands the need to build true and fair consensus through openness, honesty and teamwork. As a result, enormous changes in curriculum, teaching, research, space and facilities have taken place under his mandate. He leaves Concordia with a gigantic legacy.

A believer in freedom of speech, Dr. Lowy thrived in the multinational mix that is uniquely Concordia. It has pained him when people do not respect each other’s differences. He has encouraged the development of an institute of conflict management at Concordia, so that our diverse community will learn that the university is a place for open and free discussion in a climate of fairness and respect.

Dr. Lowy and his wife, Mary Kay, graciously opened their home to receive colleagues, students, faculty, volunteers, staff, donors, honorary doctorate recipients, government officials and union negotiators for dialogue, advice and relaxed good times.We are grateful to them both for their hospitality and warmth. It was a joy to be part of his team.

Peter McAuslan

Peter McAuslan, S BA 72, President & CEO, McAuslan Brewing Company; past president of the Concordia University Alumni Association (2000-02):
Fred Lowy immediately recognized that the graduates of Concordia were a resource of great value. As a result, he ensured that we were given an important status within the university; the Concordia University Alumni Association was recognized as the sole representative of graduates, whereas previously this was not the case. Fred’s way of dealing with the CUAA guaranteed an important role for alumni within the institution. He recognized us, accepted our responsibility and authority, and we responded, grew and matured as a result, allowing the alumni association to take on much greater responsibility.

What Fred did for us, he has done for the university as a whole: he listened, he respected, he recognized, he demonstrated trust, he cared and he was prepared to take the risk to do things he believed would lead to positive change within the institution. And he was right.

In my view the university has changed tremendously in the past decade, which can only take place when leaders nurture change and allow it to take place. Leadership is not formulaic; it is a special, complex and delicate thing. It takes an exceptional person. Fred Lowy is such a person.

Jonathan Wener

Jonathan Wener, S BComm 71, president, Canderel; chair of Concordia Board of Governors real estate planning committee:
One of the true qualities of a leader is the ability to empower those around them and invest them with the decision-making and responsibility to execute a vision which they mutually agree upon. I had the pleasure of working very closely with Dr. Lowy to create a new strategic plan for the accommodation of students on both the Loyola and downtown campuses. Dr. Lowy shared my concerns and that of faculty, students and the Board of Governors that Concordia’s accommodation was vastly inferior to that of many of our competing universities. He has enabled the complete change of the Concordia landscape with award-winning architecture, a master plan downtown, Quartier Concordia, and all done with complete buy-in and consultation from all levels of government, community and, most importantly, the Concordia community.

It’s been my singular pleasure to work with Dr. Lowy and I shall truly miss his passion and leadership. Not only did he transition the university real estate, but under him we saw the university grow dynamically and improve its stature. His gentle touch, his strong hand and his vision will last forever.

Danielle Tessier

Danielle Tessier, director, Board and Senate Administration:
Dr. Lowy is very well liked, almost adored. At Senate, we have nameplates. One day a few months ago, I got to Senate to discover that someone from my office had drawn little hearts on his nameplate. Even though they were in pencil, I cringed at the idea that he would see them. I scrambled to find an eraser to get them off but couldn’t, so I called Concordia Assistant Secretary-General and General-Counsel Pierre Frégeau and asked him to bring another nameplate for Dr. Lowy. The hearts were cute, but I was worried that they could distract people unduly. (Martin Singer sits next to Dr. Lowy and if he’d seen the hearts, there would surely have been some ribbing.) The secret admirer? Melissa Tournas, secretary-receptionist in the university secretariat. But the sentiment reflects that of many people at Concordia.

Frederick H. Lowy Scholars

One of Fred Lowy’s strongest convictions has been that Concordia must attract and retain top graduate students to be among Canada’s leading institutions of learning and research. To formally honour Dr. Lowy and his philosophy, the university has launched a special initiative, a $3-million endowment that will create 10 fellowships worth $15,000 each. These annual fellowships will be used to draw to Concordia first-rate graduate students, who will be known as Frederick H. Lowy Scholars.

Through generous private and corporate donors, Concordia has already raised more than $2.7 million towards the Frederick H. Lowy Scholars endowment. Alumni are invited to add your name to the growing list of donors. A gift of any size would be appreciated, and would be a fitting way to acknowledge Dr. Lowy’s achievements and provide opportunities for exceptional students who will strengthen Concordia and its reputation.

To make your one-time gift, contact Debbie Dankoff, Associate Director, Major Gifts, Concordia’s Office of University Advancement & Alumni Relations,, (514) 848-2424 ext. 5205.

A new president?

At press time for this issue, Concordia’s new president was not yet officially named. However, the Board of Governors planned to make its decision in late May, so by the time you read this the verdict may already be in. Check for the announcement on the new president.

The September 2005 Concordia University Magazine will introduce readers to Concordia’s incoming president and vice-chancellor.

If you have any comments about this article, contact Howard Bokser, (514) 848-2424 ext. 3826,

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