There are many lessons that Vianne Timmons, President of Memorial University, could learn from Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of Mexico, who is often known simply as AMLO.
Firstly, the openness of communication with the people. President López Obrador holds regular press briefings. Since taking office on December 1, 2018, President López Obrador has hosted a 7 am press conference almost every day on live television and on YouTube. The longer of these have been three hours. The President and Cabinet Ministers discuss important topics, such as infrastructure projects, the migrant crisis, and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. They even talk about the cheapest places in Mexico to buy gas. On many occasions, President López Obrador even reads comments about him from supporters and critics. AMLO comes off as humble and sympathetic, often speaking calmly and sympathizing with the plights of his people.
According to the President’s office, an estimated 10 million people watch it daily. An interpreter in Mexico City, Ana Errasti, states, “Any reporter can go up and directly question the president, and he shows his human side, without a script.” The Mexico representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Jan-Albert Hootsen states, “The government is not performing the kind of direct censorship wielded by past governments, and that is positive.”
President Timmons, however, rarely speaks in such an open and honest way. When she first took office, she held a few town hall events for students, but since making unpopular decisions like the doubling of tuition fees and increase in lavish spending, she has not been among the average folks at the university. President Timmons seems to think that she is the darling of the province, who left when she was young, achieved great success, and returned now that she is older. It appears that she did not expect any criticism, even with the decision to increase tuition. It seems she thought that the people of the province would feel lucky to have her at the helm of the university, and therefore not lay serious criticisms against her. Timmons’ reaction to criticism has been to shut people out and censor dissent despite promises to hold student town halls when MUN returned to in-person learning in September 2021.
Setting an Example in Hard Times
President López Obrador took a pay cut when he took office. He said he should not be making so much money when Mexico was going through hard times financially. According to The Guardian, before taking office as President, AMLO committed to taking a 60 percent pay cut, meaning that he would earn less than half of his predecessor’s salary. He said that this was a part of an austerity push in government. He told reporters that “what we want is for the budget to reach everybody.” López Obrador planned to take home 108,000 pesos a month which translates to $5,707 at the exchange rate at the time. He also committed to no public official earning more than him during his six-year term.
President López Obrador made campaign promises to cut back on lavish spending and perks for high-level government officials, such as bodyguards, private medical insurance, and chauffeurs. He also said that the official presidential residence would become a cultural centre and that former presidents would no longer receive pensions. He committed to requiring public officials to disclose their assets and making corruption a serious offense.
At MUN, President Timmons has often said that we are all in a challenging financial situation together and that we all must do our part in terms of cuts and students paying more. Yet, Timmons takes a higher salary than her processor, which means she gets paid many times more than the President of Mexico. President Timmons also increased the salary of the provost’s position by 16.5 percent, along with creating several new senior administrative positions. Timmons also spent over $60K on an office “refresh.”
President Timmons could learn from President López Obrador.
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.