These pictures show two similar protests that happened exactly one year apart. The picture on the left is from December 2nd, 2021 and the picture on the right is from December 2nd, 2022. Both instances involved Vianne Timmons, the former president of Memorial University who has since been removed after a major scandal. Yet, the response to these events couldn’t have been more different.

The first picture shows me silently protesting with a very small sign what I believed were unreasonable tuition hikes and out of control spending, standing off to the side of former President Vianne Timmons while she makes a speech. As a response, the university banned me from campus for three months, persecuted me through the Student Code of Conduct, and gave me one year probation. I believe this process was fraught with issues, which left me with no choice but to take MUN to the courts.

The second picture also shows students peacefully protesting former President Vianne Timmons’s administration. In this occasion, the MUN Students’ Union disrupted the former president’s “Report to The Community” by holding up a pink slip in front of her as she spoke. The since-removed president stated on CBC’s On The Go that these students’ protest was a safety issue and “Chief Risk Officer” Greg McDougall stated that the students were aggressive, acted irrationally, and had a silly sign. However, despite what I consider touting the students by Greg McDougall, the university did not discipline these students through the Student Code of Conduct.

These disparate responses highlight what I see as an unfair application of the rules at MUN. When discussing past protests, Memorial hides behind the lack of an individual complaint being filed while maintaining its ability to prosecute the complaint against me through the Chief Risk Officer. I’ve engaged in many protests in the past and looked at the precedents before I protested President Timmons. They justified not prosecuting past student protests because Student Code of Conduct matters are complaint driven, so, if nobody complains of a violation, then no Student Code of Conduct investigation takes place. In my case, the investigator stated, “This is concerning because the Student Code of Conduct should be uniformly applied to all students.”

In order to have a working justice system in a country/province/state, it is not enough just to ensure fair trials, the equal application of the law is just as important. A hallmark of unfair justice systems is that some people in society don’t get prosecuted or receive little punishment while other people get prosecuted for even minor violations.

My protest action was fundamentally tied to a political criticism of Memorial’s administration at the highest levels, especially Former President Vianne Timmons. I believe that the university’s complaint against me represents a targeted operation by the administration and an attempt by them to silence one of their most vocal and effective critics.

I have published over one hundred articles on MUN with a particular focus on financial mismanagement. It is also notable that I have filed more access to information requests than most journalists in the province. Some of my most notable discoveries through this process include publishing Dr. Timmons’s employment contract, travel expenses, and office renovations at over $50,000. I have also published the costs of MUN’s Campus Plan at over $338,000, the costs of MUN’s Economic Impact Assessment at $103,000, and the search for the new Provost at over $60,000. These discoveries make me believe the since-removed president mismanaged university funds during her time in office.

Chief Risk Officer Greg McDougall was the ‘complainant’ in my case. Although McDougall viewed pictures of the event, he was not in attendance when my protest action occurred. It sets a dangerous precedent to allow someone who was neither the target of a protest nor present at the protest to file a complaint under the Student Code of Conduct. Essentially, I think it’s a form of hearsay. In the real world, one cannot even get a parking ticket based on hearsay. The administration’s idea seemed to be to create a paid staff position at Memorial which is assigned the responsibility for filing complaints against students on behalf of the administration. To me, it seems like a Prosecutor’s Office with strong prosecutorial discretion and little regard for the equal application of the law. I believe the Code of Conduct was used as a way of silencing anti-administration protests and this approach should not be permitted. If Former President Timmons was adversely impacted by my protest, then she should have filed the complaint and not outsourced it to a non-witness who was not impacted by the event.

Throughout Memorial’s investigation of me, they stated that the Administration, through its Chief Risk Officer, Greg McDougall, can undertake the Student Code of Conduct process. Memorial could have easily initiated a complaint through the Office of the Chief Risk Officer for the MUNSU student protest on December 2nd, 2022. I believe doing so would be wrong since I believe their protest justified and peaceful, but it would signal a willingness to apply the Student Code of Conduct equally. In the MUNSU case, I believe the students essentially overpowered the administration as initiating Code of Conduct investigations against about 10 students who took part in the protest would be an enormous undertaking. Having been a single protestor, I believe MUN saw me as an easy target.

I have taken Memorial to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador for their unfair punishment of me. I will always stand up to administrators who impose tuition hikes and additional fees against the will of the students and who, I believe, misspend the university’s funds. 

December 2nd, 2021 protest:

December 2nd, 2022 protest:

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.


One response to “Is MUN’s Student Code of Conduct Equally Applied?”

  1. Matt, I think your cause is just. Good luck!

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