Monday, August 20, 2007

MUN and Grenfell - To the Star!

I submitted this letter to the editor in response to this editorial ("Everyone is Having a Say") in the Western Star. No surprise they felt disinclined to publish it or even acknowledge receipt.

The Star's editorial staff are pretty keen and uncritical on the issues of goodies delivered by their MHAs. And that's fine for a small, local newspaper.

It turns out this letter was published. Oddly, they never called to confirm authorship and they don't have letters on their website so I had no idea.



In your haste to stamp approval on government’s Sir Wilfred Grenfell College (SWGC) “university” project, your editorial skipped over facts and has rewritten the history of recent events.

First, it’s clear that government and the political boss for the Corner Brook region, Tom Marshall, put the cart before the horse. Behind closed doors he and his colleagues commissioned a report with a mandate which predetermined a conclusion of Grenfell “autonomy”.

This conclusion was decided for political reasons in advance of any research, consultation or evidence.

Little wonder that the consultants, constrained by that requirement, we left with no choice but to look at issues of “how” and left out issues of “why”. The “why” was because government said so.

And no public debate was has been invited or encouraged since.

So to say now that everybody is having their say, as your editorial states, is disingenuous in the extreme. There was no public discussion or consultation with university stakeholders prior to government’s decision. Issues of educational appropriateness, academic effectiveness or effects on budgets or staffing are dismissed as irrelevant or inconvenient.

Education Minister Joan Burke accuses people with legitimate concerns of “sabotage”.

Please explain how that encourages public debate.

Meanwhile, government spokespersons dissemble and spin. Minister Marshall smooths over financial issues as insignificant while his own report says Grenfell will become the most expensive university in Canada. And his explanations of what autonomy means and how it will be executed wander all over the landscape.

Government talks about previous reports. They neglect to mention that they were all reviewed by skilled and experienced public servants who recommended in each and every case that structural SWGC autonomy was uncalled for. So while Premier Williams lauds the quality of “his” public service, he ignore their recommendations.

There are legitimate public policy concerns over this course of action: academic, financial, and institutional.

SWGC has established itself as key component to Memorial's reputation. It has earned its own reputation in various fields, sometimes with and at times without the full understanding of the Board of Regents. But even under government’s plan, the same Board of Regents will continue to oversee SWGC.

If there are organizational problems, then government and MUN should address those in an open, accountable and transparent manner. It should not manufacture decisions on dubious grounds behind closed doors.

Over what better issues than university education and academic freedom can we have an open, transparent and free public discussion?

All the work done by Memorial University, and that includes SWGC, over the last 50 years to place themselves in the top tier of post-secondary institutions is potentially jeopardized over this hasty and short-sighted decision.

Sure, everybody is having their say now, after the fact. It’s like everybody having their say about the open barn door after the horse is long gone; it doesn’t bring the horse back.

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