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LETTER: New MUN president should look at other options than tuition hikes

Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus.
Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus. - Kenn Oliver

On Dec. 12, 2019, the white smoke emerged from Memorial University and a new president-designate, Dr. Vianne Timmons, was announced.

In October of 2019, MUN’s faculty association (MUNFA) wrote a letter questioning the secretive nature of the search for a new president. They argued that “such secrecy violates the core values of openness and shared decision-making that ought to guide our public university.” This argument is correct.

While it is understandable that an open search process may discourage some potential applicants, this cannot outweigh the fact that MUN is a publicly funded institution.

Closed-door processes result in searches being limited. The successful candidate is only required to prove themselves to a select few and not the larger MUN community and the province that they are the best person for the position.

The university is choosing to limit its options of a greater future if they are not willing to embrace new ideas and ways of doing things; there are endless possibilities.

There has been a tendency among MUN officials to lock themselves into a way of thinking and uphold and enforce the status quo instead of being more flexible and open.

Were the short-listed candidates asked about their views on tuition costs? Were they asked if their views align with the mandate of Memorial to be accessible?

At the University of Regina, where Timmons served as president for more than a decade, tuition fees have steadily risen while the administration’s salaries also rose. Tuition there has risen by 2.8 per cent each year.

The president of the student union at the University of Regina, Victor Oriola, has stated many of the struggles students are facing at the university are due to the fee hikes imposed by Timmons: “We have students who are unable to afford to eat three times a day, or they are unable to afford to live in a place they were live in previously, or they are unable to go about their lives in a manner that they would otherwise have gone through because of these tuition increments.”

At MUN, there are numerous students in similar situations, who are not able to afford food and this is evident by the high usage rate of the foodbank here at MUN.

Oriola stated there are other ways of generating revenue instead of tuition increases and that the government needs to know the importance of an educated population: “The government should also be aware that … investing in education, is one of the best investments per dollar that they can make.”

The University of Regina is in a similar situation to that of MUN where the provincial government has decreased its funding to the university.

A third-year student at the University of Regina stated that, “If the people at the top are making more while those that are disenfranchised are getting less services or making less or paying more, obviously that’s not good … I understand you have to pay good wages to attract good talent, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of other people.”

Oriola warns of how unplanned fee hikes can interrupt a student’s degree plan: “This is especially true because students cannot afford $200-$300 extra a month to cover an unplanned expenditure. It throws a spanner in the works of a person who’s planned out a four-year degree.”

Oriola also states, “The time has come – or long since come, I would argue – to be brave, be bold and innovative and begin to explore other ethical alternatives of generating revenue that are not… taxing students.”

During her acceptance speech Timmons recounted her meeting Joey Smallwood (when she was) a child in Labrador.

Smallwood had a dream of free tuition. Therefore, if Timmons wants to honour the legacy of Joey, she should focus on ensuring that his dream becomes a reality.

Matt Barter,
St. John’s


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