University represents not just a place of learning or of creativity meeting the academic needs of civil society. Its very
name is a commemoration of our young people who fought two World wars in order
to protect democracy.
reason alone, Memorial must never flinch from its obligation to be a source of vibrancy
and transparency for our democratic institutions. It should never become a
convenient vehicle to promote government policy. It should rebuke government
when it uses it fiscal muscle to diminish the University’s independence from political
concern that such influence is growing inexorably.
better example than the attempt, a few years ago, by former Premier Danny
Williams and his Minister, responsible for Post-Secondary Education, to subvert
the process of appointing a University President.
the form of the appointment of two Nalcor Vice-Presidents, as members of the Board of
there is the appointment of the Chair of the Board of Regents who is closely
connected to the owner of numerous construction companies and major supporter of
accept that serious academia is increasingly giving way to
the demands of industry . But, none of us wants its
credibility diminished or its integrity used for a political purpose.
think this is part of the debate universities are having because skills training,
a process distinct from shaping minds bent on critical thinking, has succeeded in climbing the Darwinian ladder of economic
imperatives. It is not. Nor is it about what one Sociologist refers
to as Campuses dominated by a “managerial
is fundamentally about the matter of the University’s independence; its need for autonomy. Given the corrosive political environment that has characterized the Williams and Dunderdale Administrations, we need to ask if Memorial retains the ability to
keep its independence safe; removed from the influence of
bureaucrats and politicians.
Academic Vice-President’s letter to the Telegram, in 2008, where he talked about the control which
the government exercises through its budgetary practices; a major interference
in the University’s ability to govern itself.
bureaucrats contributing to the management of our academic institutions. But,
when two senior Memorial Administrators also serve on Nalcor Boards, one
wonders if the arrangement threatens the University as a center of free
expression. Is Memorial still capable of contributing to public policy issues
when that very Agency is joined with an opaque and secretive Government in
eschewing oversight of enormous spending on Muskrat Falls?
Academy of Engineering Pathways Task Force entitled “Canada: Becoming a
Sustainable Energy Powerhouse” co-edited by Memorial’s Vice-President of
Research includes what some call a “puff” piece by Nalcor V-P Gilbert Bennett.
The publication chronicles, as the Telegram’s Ashley Fitzpatrick noted,
“research and development funding to Memorial from megaproject proponents
including success stories from the offshore oil and gas industry”. It is, of course, ‘boosterism’.
Muskrat Falls as an area where “we can capture…value and generate economic
activity that will benefit all Canadians.”
Such a conclusion may be fine if Memorial had already examined Muskrat
in an effort to provide context for the well-publicized views of others or to
compensate for independent Review, the project having been torn from the
Muskrat has already far exceeded its original estimate and construction has barely begun.
policy role it ought to have as it relates to this multi-billion dollar
project. By and large the University’s enormous array of academicians have been silent. They have been unwilling to apply their skills or to engage
in constructive public debate in the face of a society largely ignorant of a project
disproportionate to their needs and possessing the capability to cause great
economic harm. We ought to ask why?
engagement in local affairs. How many faculty members engage in public policy
research and how many are prepared to engage in public dialogue on their
research? The answer is: just a small handful. Why is this happening despite
the renewed emphasis on public engagement and the recent retooling of the Battery
Hotel to provide a platform for such engagement?
of the University President’s Office, provided a stage for Economics Professor
Dr. Wade Locke to also engage in Muskrat boosterism but it thwarted any attempt by
critics to improve upon this dialogue.
where government’s interests are co-mingled with its own, but it would be
foolish to subvert its most fundamental responsibilities to
temporary politicians and bureaucrats, ostensibly for extra funding.
society and not the Government that it serves.
university research and expertise to bear upon provincial public policy issues
rather than as a means to spread a patina of credibility on questionable public
policy strategies; Muskrat Falls being one.
to take a leading role on major provincial public policy issues and engage
citizens with academics in that dialogue. It must never be wary that contrary
views may offend the Government or any of the University’s donors.
forward with suggestions as to how it might make the university more
independent. Such suggestions might involve removal of Government’s entitlement
to appoint members to the Board of Regents.
to grow and to continue to be a vital part of our society. Many of us have not been enamoured with recent
Governments and their legacy of opaqueness, arrogance and unwise fiscal
or to share their behaviour or their attitudes.
Government must back off from attempts to limits its autonomy, but Memorial’s leadership must also act to counter a trend that can only harm its stature among those who are proud of the role it has played in the building of our society.
I believe the preservation of Memorial’s integrity is now its most important project. This pursuit will require Memorial’s leadership to find some of the courage of those for whom the University is named.