On September 15th, 2021, at a conference on the economic and fiscal trajectory of Newfoundland and Labrador hosted by Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Economics Department, student Matt Barter (me) questioned MUN President Vianne Timmons on the removal of posters across the St. John’s Campus calling on her to resign due to the decision to double tuition fees. I asked if freedom of speech is still a value of Memorial.
Timmons stated that she ordered staff to take down the posters because Memorial is a campus that honours respectful workplace. Ignoring that she is a public figure and the head of a public institution, Timmons stated that if there were a poster with MUN professors on it with the word “resign,” the university would take them down. Timmons also said that if there were a poster with students with the word “resign,” they would do the same. Timmons stated, “[if] they walk around campus and are uncomfortable and feel not valued and supported; I would take them down.”
Timmons then stated, “so they were taken down because they do not honour our respectful workplace policy. I’ve taken a stand… we want to make sure that everyone who works at Memorial University or studies there or comes to visit our campus is respected.”
It is unclear why Timmons talked about hypothetical situations with different people, many of whom are not public figures, at MUN on posters but not herself. Essentially it seems her argument is that a public figure without thick skin should dictate how people are allowed to protest governing bodies and, in this case, how students are allowed to protest the university’s administration. It is wrong for a university figurehead to think that they should be impervious to criticism.
Freedom of speech should not be limited by the level of comfort someone has disagreeing with an idea. If a university value learning, then it is essential to have free speech and debate.
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.