On September 16, 2021, on CBC News: Here and Now, journalist Anthony Germain spoke with Memorial University of Newfoundland student Matt Barter and president Vianne Timmons on why posters were put up calling on the president to resign and why the posters were taken down. See the transcript below:
Anthony Germain: Welcome back to Here & Now. Well, these posters of the president of Memorial University of Newfoundland have caused a bit of an argument on campus. Joining me now is Matt Barter; he’s the person who designed these posters. So, Matt, what was the point you’re trying to make with these?
Matt Barter: The point of the posters was to bring attention to the doubling of tuition fees. It’s an issue that the president doesn’t want to talk about and that she just wants to leave it alone, and she just wants to move on from it, but it’s still an issue for many students.
AG: Now you went to a public event, and you know you kind of ambushed her, so you obviously feel very strongly about that. Why did you do that?
MB: Yes. The reason why, Vianne, Dr. Timmons gave a presentation, and there was an opportunity for a question period, so I asked her questions about tuition and about her removal of the posters because she would not respond to media requests as to how she took them down. It wasn’t until yesterday that she gave us the reason that she took them down because she said it does not honor the respectful workplace policy.
AG: Okay. So, she has taken the position that these posters which say resign is a violation of the respectful workplace policy. What do you make of that?
MB: I disagree with that. 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 and that the president should not think that they should not be influenced by criticism and by opposing views.
AG: Now, I just want to say to be clear, is this a one-man show, you versus Memorial or are other students actually taking up this cause you’ve started?
MB: So, I’m the one who initiated it, but there’s been so many students who support it, there’s been an enormous amount of support among the student body this – so many students with pictures of the poster on social media channels and such.
AG: Well, Matt Barter, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
MB: Thank you for having me.
AG: Alright, well, let’s see if we can get some answers from Vianne Timmons.
AG: So Vianne Timmons, why was it necessary to take these posters down?
Vianne Timmons: I felt it was necessary to take these posters down because we have a respectful workplace policy, and if there were posters up of any faculty, staff, or students, I would have them taken down. I do not want anyone to walk on our campus and feel targeted or unwelcome, and that’s really important to us as a community.
AG: You know, you’re an experienced academic and a president of a university, students protest all kinds of things. I looked at the picture; it’s not a bad picture; it just says resign and say no to tuition hikes. I mean, where does freedom of speech and the respectful workplace policy clash on this?
VT: So, I really want our students to protest, they should protest, they should protest many issues, but there’s different ways to protest and not to personalize it and as a woman, a woman who’s been the target of a lot of attacks, as have our new Provost, I felt it was time to make a statement that personal attacks are not acceptable on this campus. We have a campus where we can have debates that are respectful, that we can have disagreements and dialogues that are respectful and not personalize them. So that is why I’ve made this position.
AG: But when you look at that poster, how do you possibly interrupt a personal attack? It’s just saying that you should resign because you raised tuition.
VT: So, the university raised tuition; the community raised tuition. The university, that’s a really important distinction. I was a spokesperson for it, so a personal attack is a personal attack. And you know it’s really, I kept thinking if it was a faculty member’s poster up there and when you walk on campus, and I would say that when I saw them, my stomach turned. I have a daughter with unique learning needs, and she saw them. I had to work with her and help her understand and process this, you know. There are students that called me, faculty that called me, staff called me really upset about this, so I took a stand. This is a place of respect where everyone is welcomed, it’s inclusive, and we need to be able to have respectful differences without personalizing attacks, and in the world, we’re living in today, that’s a huge issue, and as a university, we are a place of all other places to role model that.
AG: But you know, instead of saying it’s a workplace issue, aren’t you possibly missing a teachable moment here where you can once again explain why tuition increases have to happen or explain that whether it’s Vianne Timmons or whoever was that this is going to happen anyway. But why not educate instead of, you know, basically censoring this?
VT: Well, there was no censoring done. Students can protest, I encourage them to protest, and it is a teachable moment. It’s a teachable moment about how to have differences. It’s a teachable moment about how to have a respectful conversation when you have differing views. That was the teachable moment, and that’s the moment I took.
AG: Thank you very much.
VT: Thank you.
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.