Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In threes

Things come in threes, as the saying goes. And MUN is being hit with quite the triple whammy in the past week. So much so you get the feeling that if MUNÂ’s University relations department could take the week off rather than dealing with the crap that is currently raining down on them, they would.

I'’m trying to recall the last time MUN looked this bad, not just locally, which happens from time to time, but nationally. Universities live and die by reputations. It gets them the students, the prestigious professors and the big grants to do research. By all accounts, MUN is the middle of a massive coronary event.

To recap:

The Supreme Court of Canada rules in favour of Wanda Young using such charming language as the university needed to "get their facts straight before taking a potential career-ending action." Oh, and that the professor, Leslie Bella, acted on "conjecture and speculation."

So the university basically destroyed Young's career and life for years, never owned up to the fact, dragged the case on for years and made her to go the Supreme Court in order to get her life back. If I'm not mistaken, at one point, while waiting for her appeal to be accepted by the Supreme Court, the university went after her for the money they had already paid out to her. Lovely.

By far the worse hit is the spectacularly damning story that Chris O'Neill-Yates is doing for The National. It is a three part series, airing during the CBC's flagship news broadcast. The first part of the story focused on what appears to be massive academic fraud by Dr. Ranjit Kumar Chandra. OÂ’Neill-Yates has found at least 10 academic papers that are "fraudulent or highly suspicious."

If a MUN professor was doing this on his own without the university's knowledge, that would be bad, but not devastating. But this is: MUN has known about it since 1994. For more than a decade they had their suspicions about Chandra, but did nothing for fear of a lawsuit, among other reasons.

Part two aired Tuesday night, focused on what happened to all the money. Because if Chandra got grants for about $1 million dollars to do research, and did very little of it, where did the money go? Apparently to dozens of bank accounts. MUN apparently didn't know what Chandra did with the money or how much he was getting. Part three focuses on how Chandra could have gotten away with academic fraud. What ever happened to peer review?

O'Neill-Yates will win awards for it. The quality of journalism is that good, although I did find part two a little too tabloidish for my liking. Then again, I've never liked ambush interviews, although I understand the need for them sometimes. One other observation; Jack Strawbridge, for most of the interview, looks like he would either prefer to be working in Alert right about now, or strangling the people he has to cover up for at MUN because of their apparent incompetence in not dealing with the situation before it got to this point.

3. Oh, and just for good measure, the Auditor General's report came out today and took a few shots at how the university is run and how accountable its books are. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out in the media over the next few days. In the meantime, MUN's response to the AG is here.

You know, it's the kind of week where I wonder if Dr. Axel Meisen isn't hiding under a bed somewhere. Or, since most of the Chandra stuff occurred under Art May's watch, cursing him pretty heavily.

Maybe it was a good thing I didn't win the Board of Regents election last year after all...

Currently Playing
The Tigers Have Spoken - Neko Case


Colette said...

To defend MUN on one point, although it has screwed up pretty badly, the institution isn't responsible for overseeing the proper use of most grants and other funding professors obtain for their own research. It's responsible for overseeing money given to the institution for research (i.e. money given to fund a chair) but not individual grants which most of Dr. Chandra's research funds were.

I've only seen the CBC interview with the auditor-general. It seems his beef with MUN isn't that the execs are overpaid contrary to Executive Council directives (unlike some government boards). He even stated that MUN has the power to independently set its executive compensation levels. His problem is that MUN execs make more than similar positions in government. Well, sorry, guy, boo-hoo--it sounded too much like sour grapes to me. If MUN has the power to set the rates, then MUN has no reason to tie it to government rates, any more than any other entity. Considering the source of the cash, it's bad optics not to but ultimately, MUN can and does make the decision.

Sure b'y said...

I know, Craig. I've been thinking the same thing. It is one thing after the other. And yes, Jack Strawbridge (who is a nice guy in my experience) does look like he'd rather be hiding behind his chair than sitting in it. Universities are very dependent on their reputations and this week has been a rough blow to MUN's.

towniebastard said...

Man, MUN got its ass kicked during the final part of that report this evening. People calling the university reputation into question, wondering how you can believe anything coming out of there when the administration has show a willingness to cover up information to try and save its reputation.

It's going to take the university years to crawl out from this and regain its reputation.

The Wanda Young stuff had its origins in 1994. The university got its first proof that Chandra was lying then. Good crowd running the place then, hmmm?