MUN President commits “cultural vandalism”

MUN President Vianne Timmons.

A person concerned about Memorial University’s removal of the Ode to Newfoundland at Convocation ceremonies wrote the following email, obtained through ATIPP, to President Vianne Timmons on October 21, 2022:

…proud of the University and its base in and commitment to this place… Yet today I find myself embarrassed by and embarrassed for an institution that seems to lack any depth of understanding of where it came from and what it stands for.

The decision to eliminate the Ode to Newfoundland from convocation ceremonies at Memorial University (emphasis on Memorial) is held out as a move to inclusion when in fact it is incredibly divisive. It shows and appalling ignorance of, indifferent to or (hopefully not) an active hostility to, the constitutional, social and cultural history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Composed in 1902 and adopted as the national anthem in 1904, the Ode has been sung over the freshly dug graves of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians from all communities, across Northern Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Italy, the very people Memorial was created to honour. It was sung in the 1920’s at the opening of the moving Royal Newfoundland Regiment memorials across Europe and more recently at Gallipoli in Turkey. It’s been sung throughout Newfoundland and Labrador in school assemblies and concerts, music festivals and official events such as the opening of The Rooms. If you want inclusion, I suggest you find a recording of the grand finale of Festival 500 when it was sung by a choir of hundreds of individuals and groups from around the world joined by the capacity audience. We all know at least the first and last verses and some of us even know the second and third verses.

President Timmons’s response:

Thank you so much for emailing me with your concern. We are always changing convocation protocols to make it as students centered as possible. We have students from many places, with many beliefs and views. Our new Strategic Plan calls on us to be inclusive and student centered.

We want every student to feel that Convocation is their convocation. This is important for us to do as a university. I know that you and others may not agree with our decisions, and I welcome your views.

I hope you will still see Memorial University as your university, one that listens and focuses on all students.

Response to Timmons:

Hi Vianne,

Thank you for your response but it is clear that you really don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, my concerns and those of many others who you will undoubtedly hear from in the coming days. I have had several contacts from… in the past 24 hours and the response is universally negative to this change in policy.

Of course, convocation is and should be student centered but I fail to see how the singing of out former national anthem and current provincial anthem in any way takes away from that admirable aim. What you have done is to effectively move toward being “The Anonymous University of Nowhere in Particular.” Is that really what you want? To take away all the distinctive features of Memorial and its history? Do you really think that Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture and Memorial’s significant part in it, is something to repress and dismiss in the belief that non-Newfoundland and Labrador students have no interest in it? Do you really think international students are those from other provinces are offended by the pride that the people of this province have in their culture and their university?

I’m sorry, but Memorial is becoming… more and more like the numerous bland and faceless state colleges in places like the U.S.

As you call tell I am not taking this lightly and I will continue to oppose this heavy-handed cultural vandalism.

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.

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