The issue, as unromantic as administrative offerings can be, involved the level in which Grenfell could govern itself, allocate it its own budget and answer the academic call of the western region of the province. There was no call for the separating from Memorial, or the ousting of current administration, despite thoughts of the beloved online conspiracy theorists.
Three “second in command” positions have been vacated at Grenfell. Just as the 2015 resignations of the fleet of Tory MHAs were not related, there’s nothing to indicate these were either. Regardless of optics, having three fewer administrator does draw concern, even if only for the gap it creates in knowledge-based continuity.
Former Grenfell associate VP, David Peddle, laid concerns out when contacted by media. He outlined interference from St. John’s and the possibility of more, and the need for Grenfell to stand its ground when it came to “structural integrity and academic governance” at the school. He cited past studies and promises, and was not advocating for a new school, but for continued — and improved — controls locally.
Immediately two things happened: his concerns were corroborated quietly within Grenfell, loudly outside of the school, but dismissed by those running Memorial. In fact, it was only Mary Bluechardt who spoke on the matter by giving an interview and writing a statement for public consumption.
When contacted, the president of Memorial University, Gary Kachanoski, had nothing to say on the matter. Neither did the VP Academic/Provost, Noreen Golfman. Both deferred the matter to Bluechardt, saying on one occasion that Bluechardt was the appropriate person to address the issue and on another that she was the spokesperson on all things Grenfell. That just happens to be the opposite of what they said in November when asked for insight into the status of the nursing school in Corner Brook.
Likewise, Memorial’s board of regents were sheepishly mum on the subject, as chairperson Iris Penton deferred the matter to communications staff. According to Memorial’s website, “The management, administration and control of the property, revenue, business and affairs of Memorial University are vested in a Board of Regents.” It might be a good time to give that definition an update.
Silence does not imply guilt or corruption, of course. In government ranks, administrators and employees are often gagged with threats of retribution and there’s a fear of speaking out.
The difference here lies within one of the privileges academic institutions trumpet each day — the concept of academic freedom. While not absolute, this freedom has become one of the tenets of higher learning and separates universities from other government departments.
So why didn’t others speak out? It may be because of complacency or being pegged in a small city where many care far too much about what their neighbours think.
On subjects that affect such an important institution as Grenfell — a place that helps define us as a city and region, and is vital to the very fabric of our economy — blunt debate is needed.
David Peddle is no martyr for bringing his concerns to the public forum, but is instead exercising his academic freedom to speak. We need more people to do what he did by bringing the conversation forward, whether they agree or not, and without fear of adolescent name calling by coworkers.
Our political leaders also need to take note and ensure the best interests of Grenfell are decided upon at Grenfell. The faculty at Grenfell need to make their feelings known — in the manner deemed most appropriate — without fear of reprisal. And the three new associate VPs — assuming all three positions continue to exist — must work with the local vice-president to strengthen leadership and ensure budgetary and operational decision-making at every level.