Memo to Debbie Chant, special assistant to Ryerson president Claude Lajeunesse
By Bruce Gillespie
Just wanted to say a big thank you for arranging that half-hour interview with Dr. Lajeunesse last week. It was fabulous to be able to sit down with him one-on-one and really talk. Now, between you and me, I know you’re the one really in charge of Claude, the one who schedules his meetings and straightens his ties and makes him Ryerson’s most prominent social butterfly. Thus, I feel compelled to share a couple of tips that may help on your boss.
It’s no secret that he’s been getting a bad reputation lately, especially since November, when the board of governors conditionally renewed his contract for another five years. And while I know you’re totally capable, I want to help to do my part to make him more of a man to the people. The board of governors really harped on Claude to work harder to raise orale among faculty. Now, he told me that morale is bound to be low and people are going to be anxious when Ryerson’s government funding as been cut 20 per cent in the last three years.
That’s a good point, but some faculty persist in thinking he’s a grouchy guy who plays hardball when it’s contract negotiation time. I think the fundamental problem is that they don’t really know him even though he told me three or four times that he’s had 150 faculty members over to The Residence in the last year to thank them for their work. (And by the way, you’ve got to make him stop calling his condo The Residence. I know that Ryerson pays for it, but it’s just a condo, and calling it The Residence makes it sound like he’s at Oxford or something.)
So here’s my plan: Claude’s Faculty Book Club. Look how well it’s turn out for Oprah. Have you seen those shows when she hosts a little dinner arty and everyone around the table talks about those books? Sure, folks can get a little hot under the collar, but that means they’re getting into it. Claude could have those people over to the condo and it would be just like Claude and Nicole’s Pancake Breakfast, just smaller, and well, probably no pancakes. Sine reading is one of Claude’s hobbies, I think it would be a great way for him to socialize with faculty. He has great insights into books he reads. Take for example, the books e just finished reading.
- The Four Cultures of the Academy: Insights and Strategies for Improving Leadership in Collegiate Organizations by William H. Bergquist: “Quite interesting.”
- Titans by Peter Newman: “Quite interesting.”
- The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang: “An interesting book, a bit depressing.”
- All in the Family by (Ryerson journalism instructor) Suanne Kelman: “A pretty good book, which was quite interesting.”
See, they don’t know Claude like I do. To them, he’s the man upstairs (well, not the man upstairs, but you know what I mean.) Heck, they don’t even say his name properly.They pronounce it “Clod.” I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how bad that sounds. Maybe they don’t realize he’s Quebecois, born and raised in Quebec City, so his name should be prounounced “Cload,” like toad.
Not that I think he make a big deal out of being French, and, well, you know, having those separatist skeletons in the closet. Don’t forget what happened to poor David Levine, the recently appointed president of the Ottawa Hospital, who suffered the slings of indignant federalists who were upset with a separatist being named to run a “Canadian Hospital.” I wouldn’t want to see him get in that kind of trouble. Besides, that was the old Claude, way back in 1973 when he ran for the Parti Quebecois in Trois Rivères. Not to say that coming in second wasn’t a great accomplishment, but it’s practically ancient history. Personally, I think he’s in the clear. After all, he was the master of ceremonies last January for the launch of the English-language version of Cité libre, the federalist rag Pierre Trudeau started up way back then. That’s got to count for something.
I think you should do more to promote the fact that Claude has a PH.D. in nuclear engineering. I think it’s cool that an engineer runs this place. It’s fitting, isn’t it? He could be off making millions designing core reactors, but instead he’s running the show here for a measly $159, 042 a year (at least, that’s what he made in 1997. Nodoubt he’s recieved a riase since then. ) And people love nuclear workers, just look at Homer Simpson.
Finally, and this may seem a little mean-spirited, but you may want to spruce up Claude’s manners a bit. After all, he’s turning 60 next year and he’s really old enough to know better. Now I’m not talking about instructing him in the fine art of air kissing, no, no, no. (Although he is French and didn’t they start that whole business?)
But have you noticed how he doesn’t look at people when he talks to them, but instead looks away to the left, focusing on some point almost beyond his field of vision, his eyeball pulling to its most extreme range. It’s rude and, besides, it makes his eye look all gooey and weird.
And you won’t believe what I witnessed in the fall. This past November I saw him speak to the members of the ritzy Empire Club of Canada, who you know are high-power types who could make big donations to Ryerson. While Claude was enjoying his meal with the other stuffed shirts at the head tabe, a woman in a smart red blazer approached the table to say hello. Now don’t be too alarmed, although God knows I was, but instead of being the gentleman that you and I know him to be and standing up to shake her hand, he leaned over his salad, extending his hand across the wide banquet table without eve getting up.
I know, I know, you’re asking yourself if this is how we want people to see Ryerson. Well no, of course not. Just because we’re urban doesn’t mean we do’t have manners. If it makes it any easier to bear, the stuffed shirt beside Claude didn’t rise to shake Red Blazer’s hand either. But that’s no excuse. I’m sure that you expect better of him, as do we all. And maybe by working together, we can mould Claude into the president we know he can be.