Monday, August 04, 2008

Unleash the character assassins

I swear to God, if I had to listen to VOCM on a daily basis I would have stroked out years ago. Just hearing what happens on that station is normally enough to spike my blood pressure 20 points.

I'm not listening to the station but Peter Whittle posted a few highlights from this mornings Open Line show. The attack dogs have been unleashed to rescue the premier and the minister of education. Perhaps they had been unleashed earlier, but this morning it seems the offensive (in more than one ways) has truly begun. Two arguments in particular were offensive to me.

First, that some of the Board of Regents members and people on the presidential hiring committee were university students. They're only 19 years old or so, so what could they possibly know about such important issues? Because obviously all university students are drunken fools.

So, let's see, first plan of attack from the province anonymous hounds - insult students.

Look, unless things have changed, students appointed to the Board of Regents are normally some of the best the university has to offer. It's not just that they're tipping the upper end of the bell curve for grades, they're normally deeply involved in campus life and volunteer lots. These tend to be the people the university likes to drag out and show off as what MUN is capable of producing.

So, no, we're not talking about half-stunned first years who when they're not skipping classes are trying to sneak into the Breezeway. These are smart men and women. Let's try and treat them as such, shall we? Let's try to respect the fact they're volunteering their time, with little compensation, to try and help make the university a better place.

What do they know about hiring a president? Well, it's a certainty they know more than the anonymous caller. I'm also pretty damn sure they know more than the current minister of education.

Furthermore, I've always believed student are radically under-represented on the Board of Regents. Three out of 30? I don't believe that's fair. If I had my say, the Board of Regents break down would look like this:

20% students
20% alumni
20% faculty
20% university administration
20% government appointment

That breakdown ensures a lively debate when it comes to issues regarding the university, with a healthy degree of academic freedom. It'll never happen, but hey, dare to dream.

2. Dr. Eddie Campbell is trying to protect his ass and doesn't really care about students. This is what the anonymous government lackies are saying on VOCM. This, on top of the minister of education publicly saying she doesn't think he's capable of doing the job he's already doing.

How a university president is viewed by students tends to break one of three ways. For the vast majority, it's utter ambivalence. A few will like him, and a decent chunk will hate his guts for some reason or another.

This racket is making a rare event happen. Judging by some of the comments I've seen on Facebook, it's making university students not only like and respect Dr. Campbell, but also feel a bit sorry for him. So kudos to the government for accomplishing that minor miracle.

Dr. Campbell was in an unbelievably difficult position. He's in the running for the president's job, the one he already holds. Now, the provincial government is interfering in the process. It wants to interview the finalists for the job. There's no real chancellor per se, and the chair of the Board of Regents in a Danny Williams appointee. Find me the person who gets to speak for the university to oppose this. The ones who should be talking are either in conflict of interest, absent or compromised.

So what do you do? Find a way out of that where you get to be president, don't compromise the academic independence of the university and don't piss of a premier with a short fuse and long memory for a grudge.

So let's go easy with the public character assassination, all right? I don't know Dr. Campbell. But that's one hell of a situation to be put in.

I've been snarky with the university for not speaking out earlier on this issue. That they cowered, perhaps fearful of the wrath of the premier. That nobody was saying boo until the story broke nationally. But there was no voice to rally around and speak out. A cynic might suggest the government saw that weakness and choose to try and exploit it.

I still think someone should have spoken up on this much sooner. But I do recognize the government put the university in a terribly compromised situation and took advantage of a period of institutional confusion. It's disappointing no one took a stand, but perhaps forgivable.

I promise to try and write about something not MUN related tomorrow.

Last Five
1. Setting sail/Muineira De Frexido - The Chieftains*
2. Most of the time - Lloyd Cole
3. Jacob's ladder (live) - Bruce Springsteen
4. You dress up for Armageddon - The Hives
5. My girl - Chilliwack


Anonymous said...

Good Post..

The students that serve on the Board of Regents are not the ones spending all day long in the TSC playing 120's! They should add significant value to the Boards discussion and can communicate how the Boards decisions directly affect students.

I think the government does have a role in oversight of taxpayers dollars but the appointees play this role. This whole thing has developed into an unnecessary gong show!

PS Smithers release the hounds..

Geoff Meeker said...

Good points Craig. And, no, I don't mind this topic at all. Beats curling all to pieces.