Nfld. & Labrador

MUN student questions freedom of speech on campus after staff remove tuition protest posters

A Memorial University student says his freedom of speech was violated after staff took down posters that he put up around campus calling for the resignation of university president Vianne Timmons.

MUN president says posters violated respectful workplace policy

Matt Barter says he put posters to protest the tuition increase because he wants the university to be accessible for future generations of students. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

A Memorial University student says his freedom of speech was violated after staff took down posters that he put up around campus calling for the resignation of university president Vianne Timmons.

Matt Barter, who's in his fourth year of political science and sociology, said he put up the posters to protest MUN's decision to increase tuition for new students beginning in fall 2022. 

"It's an issue that the president doesn't want to talk about," he said in an interview with CBC News.

In July, MUN announced it would more than double undergraduate tuition for new students from Newfoundland and Labrador. The university is also nearly doubling tuition for new international students and students from other parts of Canada.

The increases came after the provincial government announced it would phase out the $68 million it gives to the university each year to retain the tuition freeze that had been in place since 1999.

"[This] is as big of a challenge as this university has ever faced. Everything is on the table," Timmons told reporters in July after announcing the increase. 

The university says undergraduate tuition will still be the most affordable in Atlantic Canada.

Barter's posters feature a picture of Timmons captioned "Resign" and "No To Tuition Hikes!" 

MUN president Vianne Timmons says she didn’t take issue with Barter’s protest against the increase in tuition but with the personal nature of the posters. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

Barter said he's been involved in student action against raising tuition since he arrived at MUN because he doesn't want future generations of students to have to contend with higher fees.

"I want to do everything I can during my time to ensure that Memorial is accessible to all students of Newfoundland and Labrador."

A personal attack?

In an interview with On The Go's Ted Blades, Timmons said she directed staff to take the posters down because they violated MUN's respectful workplace policy.

"I wanted to make a statement that this was an important place where everyone needed to feel welcome and part of our community," she said.

Timmons said she didn't take issue with Barter's protest against the increase in tuition; rather, her problem was with the personal nature of the posters — the use of her photograph with the word "Resign."

Timmons says the posters violated the university's respectful workplace policy. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

"We need to honour differing views, but that doesn't mean you personalize something."

She noted that the decision to increase tuition is a university policy, and does not stem from her alone.

Timmons said she would have made the same decision if the posters included a photo of another faculty member, staff member or student. She said she supports the rights of students to publicly protest the tuition increase — even through posters — but considered Barter's posters a "personal attack" since they included a photo of her. 

Barter said he's received "enormous" support for his protest against the tuition increase, and he disagrees with Timmons's justification for taking down the posters.

"I think that it's important for a university to have freedom of speech and debate because university is about learning, and I think that the president should not be immune from criticism." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go and Here & Now

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