Westcott Weighs In

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Another scathing commentary on MUN hiring issue

Rain notwithstanding, it's a blessing that I've been completely tied up with my Jellybean Row booth these last few days, at the East Meets West Expo in Mount Pearl.

It is keeping me away from my computer for four days straight, which is giving my sore and inflamed hand a much-needed rest (a specialist appointment early this week will hopefully determine what the condition is).

In the meantime, typing with one hand - my left, at that - is frustrating beyond belief.

The big story this week, of course, is the province's bizarre, amateurish and arrogant handling of the hiring of a new president for Memorial University.

You can read some excellent online reporting and analysis of this issue in the Bond Papers (among other blogs) and pretty much any daily edition of The Telegram - though this editorial sums it up nicely. Russell Wangersky's column in today's paper is also quite good.

Today, I do have one more voice to add to the debate.

If you weren't listening to CBC Radio last Monday morning, you would have missed a bonus commentary from Craig Westcott, mild-mannered editor of The Business Post.

According to guest host Cecil Haire, Westcott was on summer hiatus, but had become so fired up by the presidential hiring issue that he offered to pen a one-off opinion piece. Needless to say, it was Westcott at his caped-crusading best. I called Westcott and invited him to reproduce the full text of his commentary here, for those who missed it. He kindly agreed.

Happy reading!

Independence of universities is essential to freedom itself

The more I watch some of the cabinet ministers in Danny Williams' government the more disillusioned I become.

For the past six months we've had the spectacle of a health minister who takes umbrage every time someone utters the word "crisis."

The province's only three gynecological oncologists are quitting and still Ross Wiseman won't acknowledge there's a problem.

This from a man who doesn't read his briefing notes.

Now Joan Burke is jutting her chin into the search for a new university president.

And on her high horse too about "her right" to do so.

If Ms. Burke knew anything about universities, she would know that their intellectual, academic and administrative freedoms are sacrosanct.

And for good reason.

In fact, the very history of universities is one of struggle for such freedoms. from bishops and kings initially, then governments, and most recently big corporations.

The whole raison d'etre for a university is to advance human knowledge, to question, inquire and probe.

It's no surprise that one of the first things totalitarian leaders do, after they've jailed all their opponents and sacked the local newspaper office, is to move against the universities.

Universities breed ideas.

And ideas are dangerous to people who crave absolute power.

That's why preserving the independence of universities is so central to the preservation of democracy and to freedom itself.

Joan Burke's attack on the independence of MUN is scandalous.

Forget the fact that no university leader of any real standing and repute can try for this job now and not be seen as a stooge of the minister.

There are even bigger things at stake.

Newfoundland and Labrador, population-wise is small.

We only have enough people to support one university.

That university has an extremely close relationship with many segments of our society - from the business community, to our arts and culture, even to our health car system.

Take the province's biggest hospital.

The Health Sciences Centre is a teaching hospital.

It is part of the university.

And like every other component of the university, it has a necessity for freedom of thought.

Even when that thought challenges government, Eastern Health or any other authority.

If Joan Burke is allowed to handpick the new president of MUN, what is to stop her from telling that president how to do his or her job?

Or from ordering the president to stifle some student or professor or researcher who espouses a view that Burke or Danny Williams doesn't like.

Such as when political scientist Michael Temellini criticized the premier for interfering in the Cameron Inquiry?

Make no mistake.

We are on dangerous ground here.

Under normal times, in a normal democratic state, Joan Burke would be fired from cabinet for what she has done.

The truly sad and worrisome aspect here is that one gets the feeling the minister has been put up to this nasty business by someone even higher.

I don't know about you, but the more I watch this government, the more I sense our essential freedoms slyly being peeled away.

Yesterday, it was the blacklisting of reporters and the rewarding of cronies.

Today, it's the premier or the education minister running the university.

What will it be tomorrow?

For The Morning Show,

I'm Craig Westcott.

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  • Bob Kieley
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Jeff,
    We heard Craig's comments on the CBC Morning show and hung on to every word like we do every Monday morning.

    I cursed myself for not having a recorder on because it was another Westcott masterpiece.

    I thank you for this.

    Bob Kieley