I would like to thank the many people who have come to the defense of the autonomy of Memorial University over the past few days.
At the outset, I want to state clearly that I have withdrawn my name as a candidate for the position of president of Memorial University. I will not comment on what others have said about the search process or on my experiences with the process over the past year.
I will continue in the position of acting president of Memorial University. I believe I have the full support of the Board of Regents, the senior executive and the university community to do so.
Recent public statements regarding the presidential search at Memorial University call the autonomy of the university into question. Universities throughout Canada and elsewhere operate at arm’s length from government, while adhering to provisions that allow for appropriate government oversight and accountability. Autonomy is vital if a university is to fulfill its commitment to the society it serves. It brings with it responsibilities that Memorial takes very seriously.
Government plays a key role as well. At Memorial University, the cabinet appoints a majority (17 of 30) of our governing body, the Board of Regents, which gives it the necessary oversight and accountability. We are also governed by a wide variety of legislation that provides for openness, transparency and accountability.
The autonomy of the university is important and essential to its function. Our independence allows for the conduct of research no matter who is made uncomfortable or unhappy by the results. It allows for the teaching of ideas and concepts that challenge the status quo and do not conform to particular ideologies. It allows for the free expression of diverse ideas, and it fosters informed and unfettered debate within a respectful environment.
For Memorial’s presidential search, the Board of Regents struck a committee of 18 independent, interested and informed people consisting of university faculty, administrators, students, staff, members of the Board of Regents and members of the public. They began their work in May of 2007.
That committee should be free to conclude the mandate it was given without interference or outside influence, as is the case with all presidential search committees at other Canadian universities.
The Board of Regents should be free to exercise the authority it has been granted by The Memorial University Act in the appointment of a new president. That requires the Board to consult with the Senate and to seek the approval of the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.
Any deviation from the nationally accepted and expected search process damages the autonomy of Memorial University and will result in discouraging highly qualified leaders from applying for the position of President.
I will be requesting a meeting with the Minister of Education as soon as possible to address this vital concern. I know we both agree that Memorial University is a great institution that has been pivotal in the development of the province and that our university has a critically important role to play in ensuring our new found prosperity continues unabated, serving all the people of the province, and enhancing our already considerable international reputation.