A t 34 years old, Concordia University is still a young entity. However, the roots of its parents—Sir George Williams University and Loyola College—date back to the nineteenth century. And that ancestry is undeniably male-centric.
Sir George Williams University’s antecedent was the educational program of the Montreal Young Men’s Christian Association, which, in the 1850s, began offering courses exclusively to men. When the YMCA Educational Program transformed into Sir George Williams College in 1926, the institution became co-educational. The College’s first graduating class of seven included one woman, Rita Shane, BA 37. (Shane went on to earn her medical degree in 1942 from McGill University, where she was one of the few women in her class.)
In 1896, Loyola College opened its doors, and true to its Jesuit tradition, remained a male-only school. In 1959, Loretta Mahoney, L BSc 62, MBA 74, and Gabrielle Paul, L BSc 62, became the first women to enrol as day students in the College and, three years later, became its first female graduates. (Mahoney and Paul were true pioneers because they both studied engineering— a non-traditional field for women in those days.)
Sir George Williams and Loyola merged to form Concordia in 1974. Since then, the university has earned its reputation as a progressive institution that promotes diversity, human rights and social activism. Still, the principals, rectors and presidents of Sir George Williams, Loyola and Concordia have all been men—until now.
On November 17, the university marked an historic changing of the guard as Judith Woodsworth was installed as the Concordia’s seventh president and vice-chancellor (our cover story). It’s worth noting that Montreal’s two English language universities now have women at the helm: Woodsworth and Heather Monroe-Blum, who became McGill’s first woman principal in 2003.
Four days after Woodsworth’s installation, the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia’s esteemed women’s studies college, marked its 30th anniversary with a conference and dinner. Appropriately, Concordia’s first female leader spoke at the dinner and informed the audience that she had been an Institute fellow in her earlier Concordia days. Woodsworth confirmed the ongoing relevance of the Institute’s work and urged it to continue to produce more leaders who can fill senior posts of Canadian corporations, political parties and universities.
As Concordia’s new leader, Woodsworth brings a wealth of knowledge and breadth of experience. She spent 17 years at Concordia, from 1980 to 1997, and most recently served for six years as president of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. She began as Concordia’s president August 1 and has already set in motion a new strategic path for the university.
In November, she wrapped up a multi-level consultation process. This included a series of open discussions that prompted Concordia students, faculty members, staff and alumni to contribute ideas that are aimed at moving the university toward “high academic quality, outstanding student experience and student engagement, and superlative community engagement and social responsibility,” as stated in the draft of Concordia’s strategic directions document . Woodsworth intends to incorporate the feedback into the strategic plan she will present to Concordia’s Board of Governors in spring 2009.
The person at the top can make a huge difference. Woodsworth’s leadership skills—already apparent—will help her steer the university through the turbulent economic waters of the coming years. She has already begun to win the confidence of the university community and galvanize Concordia toward achieving its academic, research and institutional goals.
Woodsworth’s return to Concordia completes the circle of her academic and administrative career. It also begins an exciting new chapter in Concordia’s storied history.