Anthony Germain and Jawad Chowdhury.
On December 2nd, 2022, MUN Students’ Union Executive Director of Advocacy Jawad Chowdhury took part in a segment on CBC Anthony Germain’s show “On The Go.” Below is a transcript of the episode:
Anthony Germain: Students at Memorial University says administrative officials went over the top today when they threatened to remove students from a university event. Members of the student union and their supporters held up a giant pink slip with President Vianne Timmons name on during the university’s public report to the community. Jawad Chowdhury is Executive Director of Advocacy for Memorial University’s Student Union and he’s in the studio with me. Good afternoon.
Jawad Chowdhury: Good afternoon.
AG: So, before we get to the threat sir, can you describe the scene? What were students doing?
JC: Right, so today was the president’s report to the community and it was an event where the university essentially portrays all the good work that has been done but over the past year, we’ve seen that students have been under stress from the tuition fee hikes and living cost and so students today chose this event because it was a perfect fit, we could also express our message to the community and we went there with a pink slip that essentially said Vianne Timmons our president was fired and we cited the following.
AG: Just before you say that I should point out this is a very big pink slip, it is not like a sheet of paper like I’m holding.
JC: No, it’s a 3 by 4 feet pink slip.
AG: So, it’s a giant pink slip.
JC: It is a giant pink slip. So, the pink slip had the following on it, it said that Dr. Vianne Timmons failed to secure sufficient public funding for Memorial University, she also misspent of the existing public funds on lavish salaries, office renovations and administrative bloat, exploiting international students by differential fees, saddling students with mountains of student debt, failure to develop a university budget that does not double tuition fees and ensure accessible education for all.
AG: Alright so you listed what you believe are the president’s shortcomings. Was this kind of a disruptive thing? Were you there with blow horns and blasting messages or was this, what kind of protest was it?
JC: So, President Timmons at the beginning of the event presented her speech and students took the stage right after that and presented the pink slip. It was very peaceful, there were no words exchanged.
AG: But you weren’t invited to the stage?
JC: No, we were not invited to the stage. We were invited to the event yes.
AG: Okay, so you got up there on stage. So, this sounds like a stunt like a typical protest stunt, right?
JC: It is a protest, yes.
AG: What was the reaction? What happened?
JC: Well, after we got there the university administration threatened to remove us from the stage using Campus Enforcement to which we said yes we are open to it but no actions were taken but then we left very peacefully once the event was concluded and once we came out we were met by the Chief Risk Officer at MUN who threatened to kick students out of university committees because of the actions that we just did.
AG: Now it just so happens that there was someone there, like everywhere with a phone and so somebody decided to record. I think we have some of that, so I’ll get Ken to share that with the listener.
Greg McDougall: MUNSU next Thursday… with committees it’s not happening, I’ll find other students who want to be involved with it, you are silencing other students’ voices… We worked with you very hard… offered up open dialogue to set up a meeting with us. This was not a positive way forward…
Ely Pitman: Maybe you should take 24 hours to think on it.
GM: No, I actually already emailed in terms of those meeting and stuff going forward. We’ll involve students but we’re not going to work through that anymore.
Isabel: There’s no change without direct action and disruption, there’s never been.
GM: But the point was made from being up there, you could have asked tough questions.
Student: We’ve been asking tough questions; the answers haven’t been there!
GM: In a public form like this?
Isabel: We’ve asked for a personal meeting with Timmons and never got it, it is not an escalation at any point.
GM: I’m just stating that you are silencing students’ voices. We allowed it and we respect protest.
Isabel: You’re pricing students out, there’s no one or the other – it’s not a silencing of anybody.
GM: As a student protest is part of it, bringing forth that, that’s a very important message to share about the cost of education and access to it like that is the role of the student unit, union and it is fully supported by this university but it’s finding positive paths forward.
Isabel: How do you think we have ever gotten any wins with education? Tuition was doubled at this university in the late 90s and students didn’t get that reversed by asking for it politely. That’s not what happened. Also, we did no harm by anyone by coming here. We just disrupted the meeting, we brought our message here and this is the only way to be heard at a public forum.
GM: You only serve to silence other students voices.
AG: So, can you describe, I mean I seen it, who’s the Risk Officer?
JC: Greg McDougall.
AG: So, Greg McDougall comes out and he says you’re going to be disinvited from some committees or something?
JC: Yes, so apparently there was some university committee that was going to get striked next Thursday and he said he’s not going to invite the union anymore but he’s going to open it to the general student body and like the thing is all students at Memorial are the union, we are over 10,000 strong and so there is no way of kicking students out of university committees.
AG: Okay we’ll see what happens with committees, but it sounds as though that’s a direct consequence of whatever happened on the stage with the giant pink slip, right?
JC: That is correct, and I would also like to mention that President Timmons on multiple occasions has inspired students to protest, she also mentioned that protesting is a student right and that is contradictory to that statement.
AG: I think he was saying that too though in what he was trying to say to the students who were there, right? Were you there when this happened?
JC: I was there, yes.
AG: So, what’s happened with the relationship?
JC: Well, the relationship with the university admin has not been good since long because tuition fees doubled, tripled for local students here at Memorial and so that’s where the relationship was actually damaged and so this is our way of being disruptive at getting our voices heard.
AG: What do you actually want from them? The president has done what the president has done so tuition has gone up, I suspect you are realistic, and you don’t expect that to roll back do you?
JC: We do, so you know back in the late 90s tuition fees also doubled, students organized, protested got us a tuition fee freeze which is how Memorial had the most affordable tuition in the country for 22 long years and so after the tuition fees went up, we protested this November 2nd we marched to the Confederation Building. We made our stance clear to the Government. We met with the Government and every time in those meetings the Government says that Memorial was going to raise tuition anyway, they came to the Government proposing that and the Government approved it. Whereas if you go to the university admin, they say that the government cut funding and so tuition fees are going up.
AG: Right, so you’re getting explanation from both sides blaming each other.
JC: Exactly, it’s a lot of back and forth and students are tired of it.
AG: What’s the solution here?
JC: The solution is to provide free accessible education so that everyone can have access to education.
AG: So, what are you studying at MUN?
JC: I study business.
AG: Okay, so you study business, you’ve seen the balance sheet of the province, you think that they can afford to have free tuition in this province? Really?
JC: This is an investment if you think about it so.
AG: We would have to restructure the entire finances of government though, wouldn’t we? Like no tuition people pay nothing.
JC: See tuition at Memorial only makes up roughly 20 percent of Memorial’s budget, rest of it comes from research investment and external funding.
AG: And government funding?
JC: And government funding, yes. So, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador historically committed to free education before and so we believe this is possible again and we’ve been advocating for it since very long and we are hopeful.
AG: So, what will MUNSU do next, it sounds as though you’re not going to be welcome at these committees. What’s next?
JC: Only time can tell but will have an active presence on campus, we will have an active presence on all the Senate committee that we are currently on, and we will continue to advocate for students in all those spaces.
AG. Right. I did hear in that video somebody urging the officer, what’s his name again?
JC: Greg McDougall.
AG: Yeah, to take a breath and think on it for 24 hours.
JC: That was Ely Pitman our Executive Director of Student Life.
AG: Alright, I get the feeling that your points of view aren’t going to change if you wait 24 hours?
JC: See students have been voicing these concerns for long. It’s not about 24 hours for us. This been coming since last year. And there’s no way of stopping us, students will get what they deserve.
AG: Okay Jawad, I appreciate you coming in. Thank you very much. That’s Jawad Chowdhury, Executive Director of Advocacy for Memorial University’s Student Union… The students making their point, they’re still angry about increases in tuition and they want a break on the price, maybe as much as Jawad said free education, at the very least rolling back to where it was.
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.