By Joe Wass
Claude Lajeunesse was quite the amateur boxer in his day — or so the legend goes.
I first heard about our outgoing president’s alleged fists of fury at a sports editor for The Eyeopener two years ago.
I thought a story about our president’s days of dishing out pain in the sweet science would not only make for a great sports feature, it would give our often aloof leader a chance to discredit a perception that he’s distant and unapproachable.
That year, I accompanied a news editor during our paper’s weekly sit-down interview with the big man upstairs. I was excited to meet Lajeunesse, and I figured he’d be excited to talk about sports, rather than tuition fees.
I never anticipated what I was going to be hit with. Lajeunesse not only refused to talk about his boxing career, he actually seemed angry that I had brought up the topic.
Round one went to Claude. Round two took place the following year during another scheduled meeting. This time I was the news editor. “I know you turned me down last year, but I think the students would love the story,” I told him. “Move along, move along,” was his only response. Claude: Two, humbled student: Nothing.
The third and final round came last Friday, when I had the privilege to conduct the final Eyeopener interview with Lajeunesse before he steps down as Ryerson’s president.
I took the interview very seriously. Not Rocky running up the staircase seriously, but I did wear my best blazer, combed my hair and ate half a pack of Tic Tacs.
My strategy to get info out of him was to start small. So what weight class were you? Were you a jabber or all about the knockout? Red or black trunks? A smile, repeated head shaking and “it’s irrelevant to the students of Ryerson,” was all I got for my efforts. Down went Wass.
An hour after my interview with Lajeunesse, I meet up with incoming president Sheldon Levy at a coffee shop close to campus. He didn’t have a boxing career to discuss, but he was willing to talk about anything and everything, regardless of its relevance to the student body. Sometimes he’d even asked questions for me.
“You can ask me anything,” he told me. “Go ahead, ask me how much I make: $275,000 a year (that’s about $6,000 less than Lajeunesse made in 2004).
Levy says that it’s genetic for him to talk to people and it’s impossible for him to snub an interview, let alone a question. Quite the change from our current president’s attitude.
Which brings us to our final issue. Our staff decided to analyze the state of Ryerson — in magazine format no less — during this historic regime change. On August 1st, for the first time in a decade, Claude Lajeunesse is not going to be our president, and we felt Sheldon Levy should know what kind of school he is taking over.
What did we find? Well, you are going to have to flip through these pages to find out. Finally, from one president stepping down to another, it’s been fun Claude — I’ll keep a pen and paper in hand in case you ever come around to that boxing story.