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Vol 39  No 16
June 28, 2007


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Board, Senate discuss, examine report

Debating Grenfell governance
by Ivan Muzychka

Memorial University’s Senate discussed the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College governance issue at its last meeting held on Tuesday, June 12, 2007. Many Senators were clearly concerned with the implications of the Davies/Kelly Report, commissioned by government in December 2005 and released to the public on April 27, 2007. The report was written by Professors John L. Davies, Anglia Ruskin University, U.K., and John Kelly, University College Dublin, Ireland.
That report explored the idea of greater autonomy for Grenfell College and the consultants put forth five different options. The option preferred by the consultants (identified as Option 1(a)) would see Grenfell become an autonomous university, within a provincial university system, with its own Senate and president, but with a shared Board of Regents.

In anticipation of the discussion, Senate struck an ad hoc committee to advise it on the implications for Senate of the Davies/Kelly Report on the Grenfell College review. The committee’s report was provided in advance of the Senate meeting and can be found at www.mun.ca/marcomm/home/grenfell_news.php.
Dr. Christopher Sharpe, Geography, started the June 12 debate by offering that Senate should not accept the ad hoc committee’s report because it focused only on option 1(a) and did not show how the ramifications of the changes should be resolved. Another important issue, according to Dr. Sharpe, was that Kelly Davies did not seek input from Senate before finalizing their report. Such input, in his view, is essential.

Senator Paul Wilson of Grenfell College suggested that senators had ample time to provide input to professors Davies and Kelly. Dr. Wilson noted that Senate would have been aware of the government-commissioned study, once it was commissioned in December 2005.

“If there is a failure here, then it is a failure of this Senate,” Dr. Wilson said.

As to the political inspiration of the recommendations on Grenfell governance, Dr. John Ashton, Grenfell College’s principal, noted that “all universities in Canada were politically inspired” and noted that option 1 (a) enjoys widespread support on the west coast.

Other senators, including Dr. Sharpe and Dr. Don McKay, Medicine, and Dr. Alice Collins, Education, pointed out that there was no opportunity for Senate input on the report before it was finalized. Dr. McKay spoke of the Kelly Davies report as being “hastily written and contrived.” Both Drs. Collins and McKay felt that no real attempt had been made to include Senate’s views in the government-commissioned Grenfell governance study.

Dr. Collins suggested that in light of the implications of the change, Senate should be proactive and seek to provide the Board of Regents, Memorial’s governing board, with a further analysis of the changes. Dr. Collins also noted that the ad hoc committee’s report identified a number of areas of conflict and spoke about possible ways of dealing with them. Such areas, she said, demonstrated the problems inherent in the 1(a) option.

Chancellor Dr. John Crosbie, in a rare move, attended the Senate meeting. The Chancellor prefaced his remarks by saying that while he is an ex officio member of Senate, he does not claim to have any expertise in academic matters. He was attending Senate because he felt that the change, as represented by option 1(a) and the way it was arrived at, carries with it so many serious implications that he wanted to voice his concerns to Senate directly.

He noted that the public policy of having one provincial university has worked well for over five decades. He noted that it was being changed for political reasons and that what was being suggested was unworkable. He also opined that the change, which is so profound, is not really the sole purview of the government, and such a dramatic change required public debate. He said that he feels “such a decision rests ultimately with the people of the province.”

Student senators voiced their concerns primarily about accessibility to and transferability between the two universities that were envisaged under option 1(a). Accessibility, which could become reduced as a result of increased costs inherent in operating two universities, and transferability, which could decrease because the two universities may have different academic regulations, were of paramount importance to students.

Ultimately, two motions were passed at the Senate meeting: 1) That Senate receive the report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Advise Senate on the Implications for Senate of the Davies/Kelly Report on the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College Review; and 2) In the strongest possible terms, request that before any changes to the governance structure of Memorial University of Newfoundland are considered for implementation by either the Board of Regents or the Department of Education, that the Board of Regents and/or the Department of Education seek the views of Senate on the implications of such changes.

Senator Alice Collins also asked that Senate move to proactively do an analysis for the Board of the academic implications of the Davies/Kelly Report on the university. Her notice of motion was as follows: That Senate strike a second ad hoc committee to prepare a report on behalf of Senate for the Board of Regents and the Department of Education on proposed changes to the governance structure and any implications of such changes.

Board discusses report

At its May 22, 2007, meeting, the Board of Regents also discussed governance of Grenfell in the context of the Davies/Kelly report.

The Board of Regents instructed the university’s administration to develop a detailed analysis of two alternatives summarized as follows: 1) One university with campuses in St. John’s and Corner Brook based on principles in option 1 (b) of the Kelly/Davies report with the possibility of two Senates, if necessary; and 2) Two independent universities – one in St. John’s and one in Corner Brook – each with its own Board of Regents but working together within one provincial university system. This would be a variation of the option 1(a) recommended by the report.

“The analysis will be conducted over the next several weeks, with input being solicited from all areas of the university, including Sir Wilfred Grenfell College’s senior administration,” said Dr. Axel Meisen, Memorial’s president. “The advice will be provided to the Board of Regents in time for its July 19, 2007, meeting.”

Documents relating to the Grenfell College governance issue – including the report of the Senate committee and it report – are available at www.mun.ca/marcomm/home/grenfell_news.php.

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