Grenfell faculty, students question autonomy delay
Last Updated: Monday, February 23, 2009 | 11:31 AM NT
Professors and students at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College are questioning why the Newfoundland and Labrador government has yet to deliver on promises of autonomy for the Corner Brook campus.
Grenfell comes under the jurisdiction of Memorial University of Newfoundland, which is based in St. John's. The governing Progressive Conservatives promised more independence for Grenfell two years ago, but so far things have not changed.
Premier Danny Williams says changes are coming, although he will not say when.
Paul Wilson, a member of Memorial's senate and a professor at Grenfell, said faculty are frustrated.
"I can't even begin to think why there's, you know, a delay at this point in the game, and now there saying we're not even going to tell you when we're going to do it," Wilson told CBC News.
"That's just inexcusable."
Wilson said without autonomy, Grenfell cannot develop degree programs or recruit students and faculty.
Students pushing for answers
Tensions between the two campuses have been an issue for several decades, with Grenfell administrators and faculty complaining that decision-making — even on trivial issues like management of purchase orders — has been based in St. John's.
Terry Randell, president of the students' union at Grenfell, said students would like to know where things stand.
"I think it would be important to try and get some sort of timeline back in place to ensure that this process does move forward, just to know that stuff is getting done," he said.
"But it's also good to see that the government isn't just trying to rush this through, to make sure everything is done right."
The issue has sparked intense debates within the university, as the government's plan would see Grenfell given more autonomy, but still governed through a common board of regents. There have also been questions about how money would flow to Grenfell.
Last year, the search for Memorial's next president hit a roadblock when Education Minister Joan Burke vetoed the finalists from a university search committee. Documents released through access to information legislation show Burke was given briefing questions that, in part, showed she wanted to quiz candidates about their views of government policy.
That sparked accusations of interference from academic groups from across the country.
Tuition fees frozen
Williams says the debate about the issue has been misinformed, and that the government has a right to weigh in with an opinion.
"The reason of course we want to have some involvement in selection of head of Memorial University is because their budget has gone up 84 per cent in the subsidy that comes from the province in the last four or five years," Williams said Friday.
The government has frozen tuition fees at the university, through a policy to increase accessibility at Memorial, the only university in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Last year, Burke said the government has not had time to finish the legislation that would make Grenfell autonomous. No indication has been given yet, though, of when the bill will be brought to the house of assembly.
Wilson said he cannot understand that reasoning, given that the government quickly drafted legislation to repatriate water and timber rights from AbitibiBowater before the company closed its Grand Falls-Windsor mill.
"What is holding it up? Is it merely incompetence? Is it merely neglect?" Wilson said.
"This government has absolute control over the legislative agenda. They brought [the AbitibiBowater] legislation in 24 hours," he said.
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