Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Board of Regents election and university presidents

I've been running a pretty low key campaign to run for Memorial University of Newfoundland's Board of Regents. There was a grand plan of myself and Dups launching a campaign complete with websites and a presence on Facebook. But Dups got busy and didn't get his application in before deadline. And between being on vacation and just getting a bit distracted since I came up here, I haven't put the effort into it that I would like.

I've had a few people ask me why I'm running. Realisitcally, the odds are against me. There are some well-known and well-connected people in the race. The best I think that can be said about my popularity is that I'm a moderately well-known northern and Newfoundland blogger (for what that's worth), plus I'm the former associate editor of the Express. And a columnist. That gives me a degree of name recognition, I suppose. Although I still find it amusing that either Geoff Meeker or Peter Whittle called me a "popular" blogger.

A lot people, when they run for the Board of Regents, I think use the notion that they're running because they want to give something back to the university. And don't get me wrong, I value my time at MUN. But for me, MUN has also been a series of frustrations and challenges. I've had my share of run ins with the university over the years. I did it when I was with the muse in the early 90s. I ran stories the administration really didn't like. Not that I cared because MUN at that time frequently made decisions that infuriated me. Like, for example, cutting back on people dropping out for medical reasons. Yes, there was abuse in the system, but when I had a student come in the muse office waving doctor's notes at me that apparently weren't enough to get her tuition refunded, when the registrar told me that if a student died during the semister, they might refund the money, that pissed me off.

And even after I was long gone, I could still get into the odd racket with them. Myself and several other bloggers sparred heavily with the university over their ill-advised decision to change their logo and drop Newfoundland from most of the publicity material surrounding MUN. I still think it was a mistake. And judging by the traffic I was getting from MUN's university relations division, they were at the very least paying attention to what I was saying.

I'm trying not to slag anybody else running for the Board of Regents. They tossed their name in and good for them. I also happen to think these elections are fantastic. Considering most of the Board of Regent positions are by appointment, it's nice to see a bit of a chance for an "average" person to get elected.

Why do I think I would make a good choice? Because I'm opinionated and not afraid to tell people at the university, loudly, when they're wrong. Because I do love the place. I criticize because I think the place should be so much better than what it is. Because I think it would be nice to have someone on the Board of Regents who is not a lawyer, businessperson or former politician. And boy, are there are ever a lot of them, either currently there or running.

And hey, wouldn't it be nice if a few members from the Board of Regents stood up right now and told the education minister and the premier to stop interfering with the university? Because this isn't the government doing what's best for the university and the province by interfering in the hiring process. This is the premier doing what's best for the premier.

The Telegram has a spectacular editorial outlining just some of the potential pitfalls of the government interfering with the university. And, of course, Ed has been all over this as well. But here's the one question I have that I haven't seen answered: who at the university thought it was a good idea to let the education minister interview two prospective presidential candidates?

Yes, I understand it's probably a courtesy to give the government the head's up that these are the two we're looking at. But as soon as Bruke (and, let's face it, the premier) said we want to interview them for ourselves (and what questions did Burke ask to give her the wisdom to decide these two weren't fit beyond "How do you feel about Grenfell being autonomous?") the university should have told her, very politely, to shag off. And to wave around the section of the Memorial University Act that everyone is talking about telling them they have no right to determine who they're going to hire. And if the government still pushed, well, walk right over to the muse and have a little chat with them.

But senior officials didn't. It let the government interview the two candidates. It let the government veto it's two best candidates. And to date, it still hasn't said much about the whole racket, choosing to keep quiet. The people upset and speaking out are the opposition, professors and students. And I'm not sure that's the smart move.

Look, I know the relationship between MUN and the government has always been complex and required some diplomacy and subtlity. The government can, if it chooses, make things very difficult for a university. But this is one of the things you have to fight for. The Telegram outlined very clearly the perils of having a president feeling beholden to the government of the day. Among the qualities a good university president ought to have is one not afraid to fight for the university's best interests when talking to government. There have been those in the past who have appeared more willing to fight for the government's perspective on campus. They have rarely been good presidents, nor have they been good times at the university.

The government deserves all the garbage it's getting heaped on it right now. Every scrap of it because it's a stupid play and typical of the Williams government's mania to try and control everything it surveys. But I'm not 100 per cent sure that university officials handled the situation well, either. That's something to think about and question as well...

Last Five
1. Inside and out - Feist
2. I'm only sleeping - The Beatles
3. The best at doing nothing - Drive
4. Erie Canal (live) - Bruce Springsteen*
5. Help me, Mary - Liz Phair


kerri said...

It would be nice to have someone on the Board of Regents who is not a lawyer, businessperson, or former politician.

It would also be great to have a former Muser on the Board.

towniebastard said...

Well, yes, that goes without saying. You'd think with all the former Musers out there, I'd have a decent voting block. But trying to get a group of Musers organized....well, cat herding might be a preferable occupation.

Still, I live in hope.

Looking forward to seeing what you're doing to do with the Muse this year, Kerri.

Dale Kirby said...

I voted for you. I also think there's tons of time left (just short of three weeks) for a facebook campaign. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

After I worked at the muse and graduated, I worked at university relations for a while. It was honestly one of the best places I've ever worked. A bunch of them are tech geek/word nerds so it's not surprising they read your blog.