Sunday, July 29, 2007

Two MUNs or not two MUNS?

This is the 15 (!!) page press release from John Crosbie on the issue of the government's goal of Grenfell autonomy. It is very much worth the read.

In the meantime, here is some other coverage from the Muse (student paper) and the Telegram. VOCM has this piece in which the Principal of Grenfell, John Ashton, has no shame in baldly calling Mr. Crosbie misleading and hysterical.

Here's the Crosbie release. Far from hysterical, it reads excruciatingly clear and logical to me.

That must be why it stings.


Press Release dated the 27th day of July, 2007 of the Honourable John C. Crosbie, P.C., O.C., Q.C, Chancellor of the Memorial University of Newfoundland concerning the threat to the future of Memorial University and its autonomy caused by politically motivated interference with the future governance of Memorial by steps initiated to cause the formation of a second University in Newfoundland and Labrador located at the Grenfell Campus threatening the future of Memorial University.

I was appointed Chancellor of MUN by then Premier Clyde Wells in June, 1994 and since have been the Chancellor and an ex-officio member for the Board of Regents for 13 years. I have served as Chancellor during the administrations of Premiers Brian Tobin and Roger Grimes and since November 6, 2003 under Premier Danny Williams’ administration.

The Memorial University Act of the House of Assembly provides for the University to be governed by a 30 member Board of Regents including six elected by the MUN Alumni Association with four students and 17 others appointed by the Lieutenant Governor In Council and with three ex-officio members. The Act provides that the Board is to govern the affairs of the University providing in section 35 that “the management, administration and control of the property, revenue, business and affairs of the University are vested in the Board.”

It should be noted that in June, 2005 the Williams administration accepted and confirmed the White Paper dealing with post-secondary education which the Government had had prepared by Mr. Wayne Ludlow and that in that White Paper the Williams administration confirmed that it envisioned a post-secondary education system that comprised one University and one College.

That paper pointed out that the single University system made MUN more competitive with Universities in Atlantic Canada and elsewhere with respect to marketing and the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students. It stated that such a system had ensured the most effective use of resources and great benefits to the citizens, government, community groups, industry, faculty, staff, and, most importantly, benefits for our students leaving MUN to grow, to acquire an excellent national reputation and to attract increasing international recognition.

That policy paper which confirmed the policy implemented by all governments since Newfoundland entered confederation in 1949 also pointed out that accountability is a key tenet of University governments and that the ultimate authority for ensuring such accountability rests with the Board of Regents.

Despite this White Paper and confirmation of this policy by the Williams administration in June, 2005 just a few months later before the end of 2005 the government ignored its own White Paper and announced they were appointing Professor Kelly of Ireland and Professor Davies of the United Kingdom to consider a number of options for the future governance of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College at Corner Brook (Grenfell) and to do a feasibility study with respect to the governance of Grenfell.

Why this had to be done in view of the approval of the public policy adopted for 58 years by various governments of Newfoundland that the province should have only one University certainly appears strange. Strange also is consultant Kelly advising President Meisen in a letter of March 21, 2006 that “I emphasize that our function is to submit the range of options for Grenfell College and not to make a recommendation” while this is exactly what they did.”

They suggested the concept that both Universities should share a common governing Board of Regents, making the two institutions part of a proposed new Memorial University “system”. Then without any consultation whatsoever with the Regents or MUN administration or any of the stakeholders of MUN the Williams administration on April 27th issued a Press Release indicating that it “supports a preferred option that will give the College increased University status, within the single Memorial University system.”

Such a single Memorial University system is nothing but a disguise for the fact that Grenfell under that scenario would be an independent University with its own President and with one Board of Regents under constant political pressure to carry out the government’s will with respect to where assets and support go throughout the system putting the Board of Regents under political pressure at every meeting to do whatever the Government wishes to be done within the so called single Memorial University system.

Despite the fact that the Regents and the University administration had requested copies of the Kelly/Davies report be given to them before it was publicly released by the Williams Administration that Administration held the report for eight months neither giving copies to the Regents nor consulting with the Regents as to the report or any of its recommendations.

The copies of that report involving in such an important manner the future of Memorial University and post-secondary education in the province was not shared with the Regents nor the University administration nor any discussion held with them on the report before it was made public and the government’s decision announced and released on budget day when the government announced through Minister of Finance, Marshall, the MHA for the District of Humber East, the government’s decision on the report stating that “this new governance model is an important step in allowing Sir Wilfred Grenfell to lead economic and social development on the West Coast. It is yet another example of the rejuvenation the Corner Brook region is witnessing under the Williams government.”

This statement by the Minister clearly revealed the political motivation that was behind the appointment of those consultants to do what government called “a feasibility study on the future role of Grenfell” with the campus of Grenfell located within Humber West, represented by the Premier and near the District of Humber East represented by Minister Marshall.

On April 27th when the Williams Administration released the report and issued a Press Release it supported the “preferred option that will give the College increased University status, within a single Memorial University system.”

The political motivation that lies behind these actions of the government and the statements of Minister Marshall is confirmed again when earlier on October 21st 2005, public statements were made by Premier Williams in an interview with the Telegram Editorial Board, reported in the Telegram, where he stated he wanted Grenfell “to stand on its own as the Province’s second University.” He said as well “I don’t want Grenfell to just be a subsidiary or affiliate of Memorial, which is run by (MUN President) Axel Meisen and his team and all the St. John’s crowd.”

He wanted to see a competitive University situation in our province citing with approval Nova Scotia, which has eleven Universities, which most educators regard as a distinct disadvantage for Nova Scotia. The Premier in this extraordinary interview went on to state with respect to Grenfell that “right now Axel wants to have it under the thumb and I don’t agree with him under any circumstances on that one. Axel and I don’t see eye to eye.” He further said he had asked the Education Minister to have his Department move forward with a feasibility study on this issue. The results of the feasibility study were certainly predictable.

On September 1st the Premier and Minister Marshall were also reported in the Western Star as saying that Grenfell must control its own destiny. On September 9th the Premier suggested “that Memorial was inhibiting the growth of the College and in turn the City.” He suggested that the small management of Grenfell “is completely and totally preoccupied with providing reports to Axel Meisen and his group that impedes other things that they could be doing as well.”

These public statements and the record make clear that at least since the fall of 2005 the Grenfell group, led by Principal Ashton, has clearly met and worked with the Premier and Minister Marshall to accomplish their objective of having Grenfell become the second University in the Province.

These public statements certainly show why the consultants were appointed and their recommendations made and explain the Government’s actions since as they failed to consult properly or at all with the President, the Regents, the administration of Memorial and the stakeholders of Memorial and failed to make the so called feasibility study even available to those associated with and responsible for the governance of MUN. This whole pattern of behaviour by the Government, the Premier and his Ministers have demonstrated both publicly and privately their lack of respect for the Board of Regents, the Chancellor, the President and all those associated with the management and governance of MUN.

I support completely what has clearly and publicly and firmly been adopted as public policy in post-secondary education in NL since Memorial was created as a University in 1949. That principle was that NL should have one University, Memorial University, now an institution widely recognized and accepted across Canada and internationally as a very fine University institution. In my view the stakeholders in this University including the faculty, the students, the 60,000 alumni, 71% of whom live in this Province and the Senate of the University and the people of the Province should be given an opportunity to indicate what their views are on this fundamental public educational policy relating to MUN.

For the 58 years since 1949, all Premiers of Newfoundland, until the Williams’ administration took office, all chairs of the Board of Regents of Memorial and members of the Board of Regents and all Presidents of Memorial have accepted and acted on this firm and fundamental principle.

The standard to which Memorial University aspires was set by the first Premier, Joseph R. Smallwood, who declared that Memorial should be the most distinguished institution for its size in the world. To accomplish that, it was decided that there should be one university only in this Province so that there would be the greatest possibility of Memorial becoming such a distinguished institution. That policy has been continued by the 7 Premiers who followed J.R. Smallwood and their administrations and fully supported by them until the present and from the time of Dr. Raymond Gushue as President, by all Presidents including the late Moses O. Morgan, Dr. Leslie Harris, Dr. Arthur May and our present President, Dr. Axel Meisen.

The Regents after a great deal of research and discussion, sent to the Williams’ administration a statement of principles on the governance of Grenfell College outlining the firm opinion of the Regents that this Province is best served by a system that (1) has one university, Memorial University of Newfoundland; (2) is governed by one Board of Regents since accountability is the key requirement of University governance and the ultimate authority for ensuring accountability rests with the Board of Regents, (3) is presided over by one President as Chief Executive Officer who must have responsibility for the entire University, if the responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the University, designated by the Board to the President together with the development of a strategic plan of the institution is to be achieved and carried out with MUN consisting of three principal entities, with clearly defined mandates and working collaboratively, the St. John’s campus, the Grenfell campus and the Marine Institute; with academic matters governed by a single senate with significant authorities conferred by the Regents and the Senate to the academic council of Grenfell; with the administrative responsibilities for Grenfell Campus entrusted to a Vice-President of Grenfell with a broadened academic mandate; that the Vice-President of Grenfell should report to the President of the University on broad issues of policy and become a member of the senior executive committee, working collaboratively with the other Vice-Presidents of MUN; should receive one comprehensive budget allocation from the Government of NL through the Department of Education with the Regents authorizing annual budget allocations to the St. John’s campus, the Grenfell Campus and the Marine Institute, but remaining accountable for the expenditures of all university funds which enables the Board of Regents to fulfill its responsibilities under the University Act and the Transparency and Accountability Acts while maintaining the University as an autonomous institution.

It is only with a comprehensive budget allocation consistent with the mandate approved for each entity that makes it possible for the Board of Regents to pursue and meet the stated goals of an integrated strategic plan.

This considered position of the Board of Regents the Government never bothered to discuss with the Regents during the months from receipt of the Report by the Government until it made its press release despite the best efforts of the Regents at dialogue.

Any significant change from this Statement of Principles of the Regents in my view will lead to grave difficulties since what is suggested as acceptable to the Government would provide a system where the Board of Regents will have to be arbitrating differences between a University at Grenfell and the University at St. John’s radically changing the role of the Board requiring significant extensive and expensive support mechanisms to be created causing most important decisions to become the subjects of political pressure from and contention with the Government, fatally destroying the autonomy of Memorial from political interference.

In this Statement, the Board proposed significant changes to give Grenfell increased academic flexibility over its courses and programs while insuring the maintenance of University-wide common standards for admission, programs, graduation and transferability of courses resting the administrative responsibilities for Grenfell in the position of Vice-President (Grenfell) with a broadened academic mandate rather than just the present position as Principal of Grenfell. This statement of the Board was completely ignored by the Government which failed to give the Board a chance to discuss these issues with the Premier or Members of the Government.

The current conclusion of the Government with respect to the feasibility study of its consultants that the Government might support an option that will grant Grenfell University status and a separate executive, senate and budget within a single Memorial University system with a common Board of Regents is a decision that, if made, in my view, should not be accepted as such an arrangement would make it impossible to manage and administer the affairs of the University without constant political interference from the Government of NL with constant and continuing battles as to how the resources of MUN are to be divided in the system between Grenfell and the rest of the principal entities of MUN.

Any suggestion that Grenfell should have increased autonomy with its own President, executive, academic structure and senate, while reporting to one Board is not acceptable since it will make impossible any rational administration of the MUN system that could operate in future free of political pressure and interference by the Government. Memorial would no longer have the autonomy that is necessary for universities to have in relation to the governments that support them. Any common system will be an invitation for continuous political interference with the Board by the Government of NL and is not supportable.

Any implementation of this recommendation of the Kelly/Davies study would give Grenfell full university status under the façade of continuing in an abomination called “The Memorial System”.

It is clear from public statements made by the Premier and Minister Marshall that recent events in connection with the governance of Grenfell have been initiated by them as the MHAs for the Districts of Humber East and West and so motivated by political self-interest. Their motivation was confirmed by the statement by Minister Marshall in his April 27th press release that the decision is “yet another example of the rejuvenation that the Corner Brook region is witnessing under the Williams’ government”.

In the 58 years since Memorial was established as a University, so far as I know, and I have known and dealt with all Presidents of the University, all Chairs of the Board of Regents and all Premiers, this is the only instance I know of where there has been such political interference in the management of Memorial which is the University created in the memory of those who served the Province and the British Empire so nobly in World War I and in world conflicts since then. All governments of NL since 1949 led by premier Smallwood, Moores, Peckford, Rideout, Wells, Tobin and Grimes have supported the public policy imperative that our Province should support one University only, the Memorial University.

The announcement made by the Williams’ administration at the time of the budget of April 27th has already damaged MUN in serious ways. Since the term of the present President Axel Meisen expires in 2008, the University has had to appoint a committee to conduct a search to find a new President to replace him.

With public evidence of conflict and differences of opinion existing between the present Williams’ administration and the present administration of MUN and with the prospect of likely future political interference by the present Government with MUN as the Board of Regents has to make decisions involving spending in this proposed new university system it will obviously be impossible to attract an excellent candidate to become President of Memorial. Excellent candidates are not likely to apply when they observe that the academic freedom and independence or autonomy of the University is threatened by an overbearing and autocratic government acting with obviously politically partisan motivations not appearing to care how much its actions and statements may weaken the University.

In addition to the detrimental effects the Government’s announcement of April 27th will have on the effort to find a replacement for President Meisen, widely recognized at having done an excellent job for the University, the Government’s public announcement, without any consultation with the Board responsible for the governance of the University under the Memorial Act will be disastrous in its effects on the new public campaign planned by the University to go to the public across Canada for funding for university purposes planned to go forward at the present time in the expectations of raising from the corporate sector and private individuals many millions of dollars needed to improve the funding of scholarships and fellowships, to improve the facilities of the University needed for teaching and for research.

Certainly potential donors are highly unlikely to be encouraged or motivated to make generous donations to a second major fundraiser campaign at this time by the University. As Chairman of the first general campaign across Canada to raise funds for the University, known as the Opportunity Fund Campaign initiated in 1995, which carried on until 2001, I know it resulted in MUN raising $29,620,000.00. That Campaign was undertaken during the period when there was no public evidence of any fundamental disagreement or differences between the Government of NL and the University while the Campaign was much assisted by the Tobin administration agreeing to match, dollar for dollar, every contribution made to the Opportunity Fund.

The Williams administration has not agreed to such an arrangement this time. The Government of NL has matched the opportunity fund with to date $26,400,000.00 on a dollar for dollar basis which together with interest earned on the money has caused $58,078,799.00 to be raised for the purposes of the University.

The experience of that Campaign persuades me that one of the major reasons for its success was the fact that we could point out that Memorial was the sole university in Newfoundland so that all funds gained would be spent without dispute or argument on the University, its students, facilities and programs without conflict or competition among a number of universities in the Province which would need funds raised for their purposes. It is difficult to see how a second major fundraising campaign at this time can be undertaken if there are major differences in contention between the Government of NL and MUN as to its future, as to how it operates and with the obvious threat that recent events show exists to the autonomy and independence of the University.

If a University is created at Grenfell, to attempt to have a common governing Board of Regents for the university at Grenfell and the university at St. John’s, would create more problems, tensions and disruption than even having Grenfell as a separate university.

If Grenfell is to become an independent university, which is most unwise, then it must be independent, completely separate and apart from Memorial, since the single system suggested cannot succeed and will result in the complete politicization of the decisions that any Board of Regents of Memorial must make.

The work done by the University in analyzing the consultant’s report reveals significant errors and failure to deal with such issues as the absence of a strategic development plan for Grenfell. The Report fails to deal with the need for an independent identity and autonomy of Memorial and certainly about who is to speak authoritatively for MUN when its voice becomes divided between two Presidents, with its Board of Regents becoming, in effect, a Board of arbitrators to decide conflicts between the two independent universities in the system. Complete separation is clearly to be preferred if the Government wishes to force its will upon Memorial University no matter how undesirable this is or how it weakens Memorial. The Report also fails to advance any proper or accurate analysis of the financial costs of the proposals made in the Report.

It is astounding that the Government of NL would take decisions of such importance to the future of post-secondary education in Newfoundland, changing a fundamental public policy of 58 years, without a public debate or full consultation with the University, all its stakeholders and the public, on matters that will cause conflict, strife and grave damage to Memorial.

The recommendations of the Kelly-Davis Report and the Government’s response totally ignore the fact of the decline of the population of NL in recent years. The University has had to struggle to achieve an enrolment of 17,800 students by campaigning vigorously within the Province, on the mainland and internationally to attract students to the University.

The Report completely ignores the demographics that are so important to the present economic situation of NL. In 1999 there were 3733 high school graduates eligible to become students at MUN. By 2005 the number of eligible high school graduates had declined to 2,493.

This problem is even more serious for the Corner Brook area where the number of eligible high school graduates in 1999 was 182 while in 2005 there were 122. At Stephenville the number of eligible high school graduates were 259 in 1999 but by 2005 had declined to 119.

The Kelly-Davies Report does not deal at all with demographic challenges to University enrolments in this Province. The fact that enrolments at Grenfell now stand at around 1150 (1350 as a total with the inclusion of the Western School of Nursing) is not even discussed seriously in the feasibility report!

Memorial University of Newfoundland is one of the Province’s important institutions, a source of pride for our people. Its defining ethos is deeply inscribed in traditions larger than quarrels between the cities of St. John’s and Corner Brook. The University’s role has been as a living memorial and with deep meaning throughout the Province. A distinguished University has been established and created in our 58 years of Confederation. Who is to speak for Memorial University if its voice becomes ambiguous because divided between two Presidents?

The consultants and those who advocate academic and administrative autonomy for Grenfell apparently don’t hesitate to endanger or diminish the autonomy of Memorial vis a vis the provincial Government. The very commissioning of this Report by Government and the way it has being handled by the Government indicates there are serious threats to the autonomy of Memorial University that need to be resolved if it is to continue to produce effective, high quality educational programs, maintain academic freedom, continue research in public issues, in an environment that is safe and protected from external sanctions.

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