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Letter: Grenfell can’t be run from afar

Dear editor: In the Fall of 1975 the institution that would become the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University opened its doors. The planning had been so hasty it did not have an official name and it certainly did not have a defined governance structure.

I was one of several faculty and staff members appointed immediately as I finished graduate school. The faculty was also leavened by the appointment of highly qualified teachers from the school system and a few older faculty from the St. John¹s campus and elsewhere.

Still, the bulk of the faculty had doctoral qualifications, and with the staff most were in their late 20s, ambitious, and keen to begin careers building a centre of higher learning on the west coast of Newfoundland that would develop its own identity and autonomy within the province and alongside the much larger Memorial University.

Now, 41 years later, and considering the resignation of David Peddle from his position as Associate Vice-president (Academic), it appears many of us worked for decades and retired and that has yet to happen. (A lot has occurred in 41 years that cannot be summarized here, but many details can be found in the 2006 Davies, Kelly report on Grenfell governance:

But what has happened recently? Recall the circumstances of the appointment of Dr. Mary Bluechardt as Vice-president (Grenfell) which shortly followed the appointment of Dr. Gary Kachanoski as MUN president which, in turn, was necessary because the university and the government jointly botched the appointment of the estimable Eddy Campbell as MUN president.

When the competition was held to select a vice-president for Grenfell, it was clear to even the casual observer (as I was then, having retired in 2006), there were better candidates.

Significantly, though, she did not have strong positions on Grenfell governance questions. It was also clear that Wade Bowers, a local man who had had a distinguished career as a federal scientist and academic, and briefly as a research officer at Grenfell, was by far the best qualified to lead the institution toward an appropriate level of increased autonomy.

Of course, I was not privy to the deliberations of the committee that chose Dr. Bluechardt (little is confidential in a university, but search committee discussions often are), but I suspect the committee, chaired by Dr. Kachanoski, simply refused to recommend a candidate known to be sympathetic to increased Grenfell autonomy when the new president was not; or perhaps he simply was unwilling to accord the issue any priority when taking up a complex job with its recent fraught history.

Whatever was the case, Dr. Bluechardt was appointed, and Bowers was not. Peddle eventually was appointed as the Associate Vice-President for academic matters.

Autonomous centres of higher learning like Grenfell might become are among the oldest institutions in the western world because, aside from economic impact and the education provided to the young people of the west coast, Grenfell functions as a member of the community with the roles it has come to play and its stable continuing interests within the community. As the principal and vice-principal of the time 15 years ago, Adrian Fowler and I hired Dave Peddle partly because we saw that he would enthusiastically embrace Grenfell’s place and activity in the community.

This is how small college towns evolve into the vital and interesting places they are. It hasn’t happened in Corner Brook yet and it won’t if Grenfell is run by a committee 700 kilometres away.

Grenfell need not be led by Wade Bowers or Dave Peddle, but it must be led in Corner Brook by someone like them.

Daniel Stewart, PhD, Corner Brook

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