Grenfell set on new course

Peter
Peter Jackson
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It was one of those surreal ann-ouncements: in order to "assist the growth and independence" of Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the college will be renamed Memorial University of Newfoundland - Corner Brook.

Huh? How does calling it MUN-CB make it more distinct from MUN?

The change, announced earlier this month, seemed a complete reversal of government policy. Only two years ago, the premier and his ministers were immovably set on cutting the college loose from its MUN moorings.

It was one of those surreal ann-ouncements: in order to "assist the growth and independence" of Sir Wilfred Grenfell, the college will be renamed Memorial University of Newfoundland - Corner Brook.

Huh? How does calling it MUN-CB make it more distinct from MUN?

The change, announced earlier this month, seemed a complete reversal of government policy. Only two years ago, the premier and his ministers were immovably set on cutting the college loose from its MUN moorings.

Nonetheless, a closer inspection of all the changes announced Dec. 16 reveals that many of the long-standing grievances cited by Grenfell faculty and administrators over the years have been addressed. Grenfell loses its bid for full autonomy for now, but it gains a much firmer level of independence, both in status and governance.

The announced changes directly address many points of contention raised in the debates of two years ago, when battle lines were drawn over the wisdom of granting autonomy to Grenfell.

Grenfell professor Paul Wilson, for example, said at the time over its three-decade evolution from a small, two-year feeder college to a degree-granting liberal arts institution, the way the college is governed has not even remotely kept pace.

"All major decisions and many of the minor, even trivial, ones require approval from some person or office in St. John's," Wilson wrote in a Telegram forum piece.

And that approval, Wilson added, rarely came easily.

The often belittling attitude of MUN brass - as well as many MUN professors - towards Grenfell is legion among Grenfellites. And it was in clear evidence in 2007 when then MUN chancellor John Crosbie waded in to denounce any move to grant autonomy to Grenfell.

He raised dubious fears about the possibility of diverging standards (really?) and of MUN losing its academic reputation (why?).

It was the kind of disdainful put-down former Grenfell principal John Ashton had heard many times before.

In a rebuttal piece to The Telegram, Ashton (who died in 2008) said Crosbie's alarms were spurious and misrepresented what the autonomy bid was all about.

"(The plan) involves the development of a university system for our province in which autonomous institutions under autonomous leadership and with independent decision-making capacity collaborate and share resources and services to provide the highest quality education with the best range of choices for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," Ashton countered.

He described increased autonomy as a "natural evolution and an appropriate acknowledgment of the growth and maturity that Sir Wilfred Grenfell College has experienced over the last 32 years."

So, the question remains: to what extent do the new changes adhere to those planned in 2007? A lot, in fact.

First, the government's news release states Grenfell will submit "a separate budget to the Provincial Government through the Board of Regents to allow independent budget processes and priority setting."

That in itself would ameliorate one of the most demeaning aspects of the existing governance model.

Second, the principal of Grenfell, while not gaining presidential status, will now sit on the senior executive of MUN and will report directly to the president. This is a far cry from having to constantly beg the ear of some second-tier official.

The name change may seem antithetical to increased autonomy, until you compare it to other university models, such as the state university systems in the U.S.

The University of California, for example, is divided into several separate campuses - UC Berkeley, UCLA, etc. - that govern many of their own affairs. It could be argued that changing Grenfell to MUN-CB connotes not a further reassimilation, but rather a reinforcement of its distinct status under the MUN umbrella.

In 2006, Danny Williams drew a line in the sand, and has since quietly covered it over. It's hardly the first time this has happened under his leadership.

But while the government has taken a different route with Grenfell, it is still very much a progressive one. To characterize it as a complete U-turn is to miss many of the finer aspects.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Memorial University of Newfoundland, Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, University of California UC Berkeley UCLA

Geographic location: Corner Brook, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador U.S.

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Recent comments

  • Funky
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    Why is Grenfell probably going to be closing down Taxpayer? Please explain.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    In a few years they will probably be closing the whole place down, so moot point right?

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Well Funkster, enrollment there has been declining over the past three years, so much so that they are now in danger of losing thier degree granting status, as well the only employer in the town is on the brink of closing, hanging on by the skin of it's teeth while the company sees if the province is going to fork over some more money, it's been closed down now for weeks. If that plant closes CB will be a ghost town. The reason the provice couldn't give them autonomy is because now they are thinking about how they are going to keep this place open. Tough times ahead for the west coast of the province.

  • Huh?
    July 02, 2010 - 13:08

    'the only employer in the town is on the brink of closing'. You need to get outside the overpass once in a while. That's equivalent to saying that gov't is the only employer in St. John's.

  • Funky
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    Why is Grenfell probably going to be closing down Taxpayer? Please explain.

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    In a few years they will probably be closing the whole place down, so moot point right?

  • Taxpayer ll
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    Well Funkster, enrollment there has been declining over the past three years, so much so that they are now in danger of losing thier degree granting status, as well the only employer in the town is on the brink of closing, hanging on by the skin of it's teeth while the company sees if the province is going to fork over some more money, it's been closed down now for weeks. If that plant closes CB will be a ghost town. The reason the provice couldn't give them autonomy is because now they are thinking about how they are going to keep this place open. Tough times ahead for the west coast of the province.

  • Huh?
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    'the only employer in the town is on the brink of closing'. You need to get outside the overpass once in a while. That's equivalent to saying that gov't is the only employer in St. John's.