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October 11, 2001 Major donors take a wait-and-see attitude



by Barbara Black

Tamas Zsolnay is counselling Concordians worried about the effect of the CSU controversy to take a deep breath.

The Executive Director of University Advancement and Alumni Relations knows that graduates and friends of Concordia are concerned about the brouhaha over the Concordia Student Union handbook and related issues, but he denies that this is reflected in a significant drop in giving by major donors to the university.

“A lot of the people who call in want to express concern or outrage and threaten to stop giving if the situation is not brought under control. I think their concerns are legitimate, and their reaction understandable. Those who do initially wish to cancel their pledges usually agree to hold off once they have heard the full story, and not just the over-dramatized media version.”

In fact, he added, “a lot of the people who threaten to stop giving turn out not be donors. They seem to be looking for a good excuse to continue not to give.”

This is a period of preparation for Advancement, and it is going smoothly. Volunteers are being recruited for personal canvassing and students are being trained to work in the fundraising call centre. The annual campaign was to have started in about two weeks, but Zsolnay said that the start will be delayed to provide time for the turmoil to settle.

Attendance was down somewhat for the Shuffle and Homecoming weekend, he said, but that may have been the effect of the Sept. 11 disaster in the U.S. only days before. Invitations are now going out for the Loyola Dinner, to be held Oct. 19, which has given some alumni an opportunity to respond with queries about the CSU controversy.

When people call his offices, they often want information and reassurance, Zsolnay said.
“For one thing, they may not understand the relationship between the student union and the university. A response from the ministry may help to corroborate the university’s position that the student union is a separate legal entity, [and as such] the administration is relatively powerless to intervene in its affairs.”

Rector Frederick Lowy said last week that the university is asking Quebec’s education and justice officials to look into the CSU’s actions, including the contents of its handbook. The CSU is accredited by the Quebec government as a body representing Concordia undergraduate students.

More likely than the current controversy to affect giving is the deep slump in the economy. Even where potential donors are not directly hit by the downturn, there is a psychological effect. “The arts are always the first victims of a recession, because they’re seen as a luxury,” Zsolnay said. “Education is somewhat less affected.”