Freedom Of Expression Is Officially Dead at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Yesterday, I received email correspondence about “Interim Measures” from the secretary for Jennifer Browne, the Director of Student Life at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
In the email, Ms. Browne stated that she had recently been “informed of concerning behaviours that you had demonstrated on December 2nd, 2021, during Dr. Timmons’ media briefing at The Landing on St. John’s campus.” Moreover, she wrote, “This is to inform you that a complaint will be laid against you in accordance with the provisions of the Student Code of Conduct.”
Browne continued, “It is alleged that you have demonstrated behaviours that have been interpreted as harassing and intimidating towards Dr. Timmons and her staff both at yesterday’s media briefing, and recent public events in which Dr. Timmons has made public appearances. Given the impact of these behaviours on Dr. Timmons, interim measures are being imposed as per section 6b of the Student Code of Conduct policy.”
The conditions include a ban from all St. John’s campuses except for classes, exams, or medical services, and no further contact, direct or indirect, with Dr. Timmons and/or her Executive members.
I did not do anything wrong. I will vehemently defend myself with every resource at my disposal. Memorial University must cease and desist this abusive behaviour. I ask that they reverse this ban immediately and issue an apology.
Dr. Timmons and other administrators have been making similar allegations against me for some time now, as evidenced by her statement to CBC that my posters calling for her resignation violates the Respectful Workplace Policy. It is clear they have now decided to weaponize the Student Code of Conduct.
Not only is the administration targeting me, but their actions are also an assault on democracy and freedom of expression. This decision signals a turn towards censorship and an erosion of the right to peaceful protest. I am only the first victim. These dark impulses will have far more serious and widespread consequences to others if these actions are not stopped.
In a previous letter to Dr. Timmons on October 7th, 2021, regarding the posters MUN had ordered taken down, the MUN Faculty Association (MUNFA) declared that Dr. Timmons’s reference to the Respectful Workplace Policy “could have a chilling effort on free expression and Academic Freedom at Memorial University.” They continued, “Rather than a personal attack, we understand those posters as a form of protest directed at the public role of the university president, rather than you as an individual person.” MUNFA also acknowledged those posters did not “constitute harassment, particularly in a university context.”
MUNFA also stated that Timmons’s comments to the media were directed at all members of the university community and served as a statement that criticism directed at members of the senior administration is illegitimate. They also claimed that Timmons’s removal of the posters suggests her willingness to censor criticism and protest directed towards the public representative role of the university president and other members of the senior administration.
By the recent actions of MUN administration, we have now seen that they are willing to heavy-handedly censor protest.
It is no coincidence that they sent the email at 4:55pm on a Friday evening, only one hour before the evening news broadcasts in the province and after the newspaper had already gone to print.
Dr. Timmons is not someone whom I encounter often on campus. In fact, have been in her presence twice on campus. The first time at a public conference on September 15th, 2021, when I asked her questions during the question period after her presentation, as was my right to do. And the second time on December 2nd, 2021, when I held up a protest poster while standing still as Timmons spoke at a public press conference. I did not prevent Timmons from speaking and was never asked to leave.
The Student Code of Conduct includes a section that reads “The University recognizes academic freedom and the right to free speech, creative expression and peaceful protest, acknowledging that the common good of society depends upon the search for knowledge and its free expression.
The following are not considered ‘disruption’ in accordance with this section:
• Peaceful assemblies, demonstrations, picketing or other activity outside a class or meeting that does not substantially interfere with the communication inside, or impede access to the meeting or class.
• Silent or symbolic protest.”
Timmons is abusing her position as president of the university and using her authority in an attempt to protect her $500K salary job against criticism of her performance and calls for her resignation.
On September 16th, 2021, on a segment of CBC’s On The Go, host Ted Blades asked Timmons about the poster situation: “I can’t help but wonder whether some of this is personal on another level because I know that back in February of 2020, Matt Barter got a lot of media attention when he was complaining quite loudly about your compensation package.”
On my website, I have written over one hundred articles about Memorial University. Most of what I do is provide information like the article on how Jennifer Browne and the Associate Vice President Academic (Students) Donna Hardy-Cox spent over $184K on office renovations, how the administration spent over $103K on an “Economic Impact Assessment,” a tour of MUN’s infrastructure woes (over 300 pictures), issues with size inclusivity on campus, and the limited supply of heat and water in residence.
On October 28th, 2021, I published a poll on my website that showed students overwhelmingly disapprove of President Timmons’s leadership. Of 653 participants, 87% of students responded that they do not support Timmons.
Finally, banning me from campus is an attack on journalism and the free press. Memorial University is preventing me from doing my job as a journalist and an activist. I have spent hundreds of hours collecting information and publishing it for the university community and the general public.
My experience with my fellow students shows me the general public support the work I do. I was recently served by a fellow student at a food place at MUN who told me that they appreciate the work that I do for the university community. I have had many students stop me in the hallways on MUN Campus and express the same feeling of appreciation. They might not know how much their words mean to me, but they are the reason why I keep fighting for a better university for all.
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.