Monday, August 06, 2007

MUN II - With a Vengence

The upper echelon of academia at Memorial University is a bastion of self-preservation.

Let me start again, give me a second to get off my high-horse that I got at MUN and rephrase that...

That University Crowd is some big-in-theirself. When the province decides that it is time for MUN to take an internal look at itself the Board of Regents dumps a brick. Why? Not because they think that improving the status of the Grenfell Campus is a bad idea - but that it comes from government and not "The Board". The Board is diametrically opposed to any outside force dropping a suggestion in the box. (The suggestion box itself is up on the top shelf with the cookies and mouse droppings.)

As a struggling student I presented a letter to a board representative so they would except a course credit towards my degree. As an extra incentive I included a letter of reference from a high-ranking government official of which I knew from my summer employment at his provincial department. When I presented the reference letter to the board of regents rep his words to me were: "this is a bad idea, I'm not going to include the reference letter with your application." Seeing the expression of naivety on my face he continued, "The Board of Regents would see a letter from a political figure as government interference and that would be a hindrance to the application." I was shocked, but I did learn a little about the university governance from that conversation.

Consider what would happen if they wanted to grow the University to be representative of this province. If they wished to seriously improve rural relations, to build a university that is responsive to Cartwright as well as St. John's, it would be done. In this era of technology it would not need to break the bank. If these great learned individuals put their heads together, MUN could be the University that this province deserves. A university that has relevance to rural Newfoundland and coastal Labrador, all regions given consideration. Distance education? From experience, teleconference, correspondence courses and the like are sub-par. Preliminary university classroom courses in other parts of the province are not up to snuff. I can also tell you that there are a great number of potential students in other parts of Newfoundland and Labrador off the Avalon who would rather attend a maritime university or go to Ontario instead of traveling to St. John's.

So why can't we speak of improving the University for rural Newfoundland and Labrador? Because it is being represented by people like John Crosbie. Sharp, articulate, head-strong, proud and entirely rooted in the rocky soils of old St. John's. That is not being critical - it is simply the reality of his perspective. He is fully entitled to it and there should never be the suggestion that he is not. But lets hear from rural Newfoundlanders and Labradorians!

60,000 MUN alumni, how many of those were not born in St. John's? That's the seldom heard perspective we should be interested in, because it is these people who graduated MUN in spite of itself. Those who made the leap to the halls of academia of the biggest little University in Canada overcoming the obstacles to a higher education in this province.

I can only tell you that the travel costs, the culture loss, rural population loss, the sub-par distance education, classrooms in condemned buildings - all of this is my own experience at MUN. And it's not good enough. I suggest the Board of Regents at MUN take its head out of its collective backside and consider "How can we make this work" instead of throwing up barriers as to why it won't. Can't-do is not an attitude that belongs in academic philosophy.

If they feel so strongly that the Grenfell Concept is wrong for the University, take the reigns. Let's see where we can take higher education in this province. Only a dictatorship is afraid of change.

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