Monthly Archives: April 2015

Blog20

It was hard not to like Harlow. Full disclosure: that lovely church spire is not on our actual Memorial land but is in plain site of our residences and office. But that was a postcard op waiting to be snapped, as English as a hedgerow.

Believe it or not, but after three decades of working at Memorial this was my first visit there, just a few days ago. Well, as you can see from the blue sky and budding trees on our small UK campus it would have been hard not to feel lighter of the heart in general. But genial weather aside, I feel as if I not only discovered the place but can now go forward with some planning for Harlow with a measure of confidence and a lot more knowledge. You have to see the wiring before you know what sort of upgrades you can handle.

Hundreds if not thousands of our students have been transformed after spending time on our vital little plot of land just north of London. I get it. One of our buildings dates from 1650, or so I was told. And we thought St. John’s was old. The campus—such as it is–is actually situated in what is formally known as Old Harlow, which is exactly where our students would want to be, surrounded by history, greenery, and a tranquil, meditative spot of loveliness. Did I mention that local pubs are as close as a whistle? That you can sit in the shade of a thriving willow while sipping your brew on a spring afternoon?

To date, we have been encouraging our students to participate in some study time at Harlow through various specially crafted programs. Biology, and several Arts departments have come and gone over the years, as has the Faculty of Business Administration. Annually, a modest figure of about 80 people have visited the campus, taken a course, done field trips in the English countryside, visited landscapes and historic sites, attended plays in the London theatre district, and so on. For the most part, and as we hear over and over, the experiences have been enriching for everyone. In Essex County, Stansted Airport is about 10 minutes away and it’s an easy hop to the continent and the temptations of Paris, to take an obvious weekend practice. Sure puts a weekend drive to Gander in perspective.

This year a new incentive program has attracted double the number of registrants and so over the next few months about 160 of our students will be listening to music, studying foodways, and enjoying all of the above activities. Interest in new programing is growing, a sign of what I believe to be the enormous potential of Harlow for Memorial.

Such valuable real estate also gives us unprecedented access to the world. Offering Harlow as a base for our own existing online graduate programs, by way of possibility, would extend our reach far beyond the eastern shores of Canada. We are starting to explore the markets for our programs and gauging potential interest. We are also living at a time when universities all over the world see value in partnerships and collaborations, and to that end we have been talking to a number of interested UK-based post-secondary institutions about how best to further our respective interests.

Harlow used to be so far away, a remote speck of an idea on the Memorial map. In the worst-case thinking, Harlow was an economic drain, an annoyance on a budget line. But the campus, a small but vital footprint, is now as close as a text message—or a short hop across the pond. How many North American universities would give away their parking privileges just to own a bit of land in England? Well, we own it, and have the papers and signage to prove it. Now we need to take Harlow to its 2.0 potential. To that end, a team of people will be working with a view to enhancing its offerings and our own Canadian base.

I know I am sounding optimistic, and that faculty members who have come and gone will remind me of international hassles and logistical challenges. I know I know, but I also know this is the time to go back (to the old country) to (inform) the future. Let’s get on it.

 

 

Blog19

Sorry, I couldn’t resist, just love this photo—a keeper for the scrapbook, for sure. I doubt there’s a Canadian reader who doesn’t know, but, just in case, the feller on the left is former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Danny Williams, and the, er, creature to the right is Buddy the Puffin.

Last week was a busy one for the Provost—pre-budget discussions, teleconference calls, meetings upon more meetings, a couple of lively ECMA events, and a St. John’s Ice Caps game—that’s hockey to all you non-sports fans. Our glorious former leader owns and operates the franchise that brings AHL–-professional league—teams to our town. To recognize the community’s investment in the franchise and to give back a little of what comes through the turnstiles at Mile One Stadium, the CEO draws on the established Williams Family Foundation—Danny’s personal and private creation—to benefit various organizations. This year the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival applied for funding and, as you can see above, received a donation of two thousand dollars. As Chair of the Board I was more than happy to show up. Some who heard of the amount were surprised at how small it was but my view is that it all helps. Besides, I also got to go to the game and receive the cheque with Himself and Buddy.

Obviously, I had no difficulty deciding what to wear. With the Ice Caps vacating the building and the AHL team operated by the venerable, legendary, Montreal Canadiens moving in, I hauled my old Montreal sweater out of the back of the closet and proudly boasted my affiliation and bias. Danny approved. Not only that, he recognized the sweater as an original—wool, not polyester, purchased in the days when no outlet could sell any version of the sweater outside of the Montreal Forum, former shrine to the Habs—and where I had spent a good deal of my youth. Maybe he’ll give us more money next time.

Never mind. It’s all appreciated. Thing is about Danny, love him or not as premier, he sure is loyal to his causes, and the Williams Family Foundation is testament to that. If only more families of means could set up similar foundations in this province we might have healthier support for those organizations that really need it. I well know a lot of people never benefited from Danny’s largesse, or, perhaps, worse, suffered his ire and wrath, but I was never one of them. For that matter, the arts community of this province had a lot to be grateful for when he was premier and smartly established a Cultural Blueprint for the province, one which we haven’t seen the likes of since.

Under Danny’s political leadership, not so long ago, the School of Graduate Studies benefited enormously from a multi-million base budget increase in fellowship dollars. That wise investment, which he single-handedly executed, set a new bar for us and helped raise our sights to unimagined levels of enrolment. Today, we have 3,700 graduate students registered at Memorial—more than at our nearest competitor, Dalhousie, and we owe a lot of that success to the confidence Danny had in us at a time when we sorely needed it. He got it.

Not surprisingly, and mindful of the former premier’s enormous influence on this province, I think a lot about leadership in this office—what is it, how can one learn it, teach it, live it. Scanning the current circus starring shameless Canadian (not the hockey team) Senators and their profligacy, it is hard to see much in the way of inspiring leadership in elected government officials. The Duffy trial merely confirms what so many people think of the state of Canadian politics. One might ask, where was the good leadership that prevented this fiasco from happening? That’s a whole other commentary, too dreary for this blog space today.

To the main point: surely, Danny Williams is the only owner of a professional sports franchise in Canada willing to support the arts. May he set an example for business owners everywhere, but especially here.

Money

In 1992, The Barenaked Ladies released a single that became both their anthem and the theme of a number of advertising campaigns, including the New York Lottery. You know what I’m talking about: everybody sing now, If I Had a Million Dollars. A million dollars in 1992 was a lot of money. The Ladies sang that if they had it they’d “be rich.” Today, it’s the price of a university president’s salary. Well, that’s not entirely fair—it’s more like twice the amount of a university president’s salary, but if he receives it all at once, as Western University’s Amit Chakma did last week, then it’s a viral news story. Chakma, for all who haven’t followed the thread, was authorized by the Western U’s Board of Governors to receive twice his salary because he hadn’t taken a scheduled one-year leave after his first term.

To most of us, a million dollars is still a lot of money, even for university presidents, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that when news of Chakma’s double salary leaked out there was an extended noisy reaction, otherwise known as backlash. Friends of mine who teach at Western (my alma mater) have been part of a pretty widespread campaign to shame and expose not just the president but the whole current university system that bestows generous salaries and bonuses on administrators while crying for austerity measures, larger classrooms, and general sacrifices from the academic programs. Within days of the news, about 1700 or so people had signed a petition to register profound disapproval of the million dollar windfall.

On April 1st, but yet not as a joke, President Chakma announced he would be refunding the money. A judge has been appointed to review his compensation package. The president didn’t have much choice. The optics of receiving a million dollars while Ontario adjunct teachers are marching on the streets for higher pay, benefits, and a little respect are obvious. Chakma had nowhere to hide, and pointing to equivalent salaries at other Canadian universities (Alberta, Toronto, UBC) would not have helped.  Two or three or eight wrongs don’t make it right, many would say.

In Quebec, students have revived the spring demonstration cycle and are protesting daily against a bundle of things, including austerity measures, neoliberalism, and the high cost of administrators’ salaries. As student debt rises, public investment in post secondary education diminishes, and so does confidence in the pay scales of presidents—and professors. In Ontario, Alberta, and BC, disclosure of public servants’ salaries over $100,000 is now mandatory. These so-called sunshine lists make for some annual juicy reading among the chattering classes. Newfoundland and Labrador is soon to follow and before long we will all know each others’ salaries—and all that that entails.

And, apparently, it’s not going to result in what you think. Two (well paid) Ontario university economists recently suggested that public disclosure of high salaries actually helps to increase—not reduce—wages. As one Globe and Mail columnist noted, in 2000, when most professors’ salaries were below the 100k threshold, academics working in Ontario earned 4% more than the national average. After the Harris government legislated the disclosure act in that year, the average professor’s salary went up 8% above the Canadian average. The theory is that employees could compare themselves against others getting more and then negotiated up (well, what other direction is there?).

I am not really going to enter the debate here about whether or not university presidents—or professors—should be earning as much as they/we do. The Ontario economists argued that universities are harder to run than ever, and to get the best talent to do so requires international competitions and competitive, appealing salaries. The same might be said for most professors. How are you going to get the genie back into that bottle, now that we have negotiated collective agreements and advanced our interests to secure the best possible salaries we (think we) deserve in this or any country?

But it might be worth our whole society’s while to publish everyone’s salary in the public sector, not just those above 100k—to see where the gaps are, to get a full measure, and discussion—of value for money and, perhaps, yes, privilege, perks, and promotions. That list would tell us a lot more about who we are, and what labour, skills, and tasks we value.

Finally, I have to ask—what was Chakma thinking? His faculty have been perched to register a non-confidence vote and his reputation as the golden boy of internationalization has been jeopardized. I don’t begrudge him the million dollars, since he successfully negotiated that amount anyway when he was hired (clever boy), but I certainly question his judgement in taking it all in one fell swoop when austerity rules the day. If I had a million dollars I’d buy him a better PR advisor.