On January 10th, 2020, I penned a letter to a local newspaper regarding the selection of the new president of Memorial University of Newfoundland. I forewarned everyone what would happen with Vianne Timmons as president, including tuition hikes and increased salaries for administrative positions.
On May 15th, 2020, Timmons stated to VOCM News that there was room to move with tuition. She noted that flexibility is critical and that multiple streams of revenue are necessary for greater flexibility.
On July 9th, 2021, Memorial University announced that its Board of Regents, in a closed-door meeting, had approved a new schedule of undergraduate program tuition fees effective Fall 2020, ending the 22-year tuition freeze in place since 1999. Tuition fees doubled from $2,550 annually for Newfoundland and Labrador students and $3,330 a year for students from other provinces to $6,000 yearly. For international students, tuition increased to $20,000 a year.
Currently enrolled students and students set to begin in Fall 2021 would not pay the full tuition hike when it took effect. Instead, tuition for those students was set to rise by four percent a year until 2026. Even though on May 3rd, 2021, Timmons stated that current students would be grandfathered in and would not pay more if tuition increased. Timmons said, “There will be no student who is presently enrolled in Memorial that will be compromised.” Vianne lied!
See my January 2020 letter below:
On December 12th, 2019, white smoke emerged from Memorial University, and a new president-designate, Dr. Vianne Timmons, was announced.
In October 2019, MUN’s faculty association (MUNFA) wrote a letter questioning the secretive nature of the search for a new president. They argued that “such secrecy violates the core values of openness and shared decision-making that ought to guide our public university.” This argument is correct.
While it is understandable that an open search process may discourage some potential applicants, this cannot outweigh the fact that MUN is a publicly funded institution.
Closed-door processes result in searches being limited. The successful candidate is only required to prove themselves to a select few rather than the larger MUN community and the province that they are the best person for the position.
The university is choosing to limit its options for a greater future if they are unwilling to embrace new ideas and ways of doing things; there are endless possibilities.
There has been a tendency among MUN officials to lock themselves into a way of thinking and uphold and enforce the status quo instead of being more flexible and open.
Were the short-listed candidates asked about their views on tuition costs? Were they asked if their views align with the mandate of Memorial to be accessible?
At the University of Regina, where Timmons served as president for over a decade, tuition fees had steadily risen while the administration’s salaries also rose. Tuition there increased by 2.8 percent each year.
The president of the student union at the University of Regina, Victor Oriola, has stated many of the struggles students are facing at the university are due to the fee hikes imposed by Timmons: “We have students who are unable to afford to eat three times a day, or they are unable to afford to live in a place they were live in previously, or they are unable to go about their lives in a manner that they would otherwise have gone through because of these tuition increments.”
At MUN, there are numerous students in similar situations who cannot afford food; this is evident by the high usage rate of the MUN foodbank.
Oriola stated there are other ways of generating revenue instead of tuition increases and that the government needs to know the importance of an educated population: “The government should also be aware that … investing in education is one of the best investments per dollar that they can make.”
The University of Regina is in a similar situation to that of MUN, where the provincial government has decreased its funding to the university.
A third-year student at the University of Regina stated that “If the people at the top are making more while those that are disenfranchised are getting less services or making less or paying more, obviously that’s not good … I understand you have to pay good wages to attract good talent, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of other people.”
Oriola warns of how unplanned fee hikes can interrupt a student’s degree plan: “This is especially true because students cannot afford $200-$300 extra a month to cover an unplanned expenditure. It throws a spanner in the works of a person who’s planned out a four-year degree.”
Oriola also states, “The time has come – or long since come, I would argue – to be brave, be bold and innovative and begin to explore other ethical alternatives of generating revenue that are not… taxing students.”
During her acceptance speech, Timmons recounted meeting Joey Smallwood when she was a child in Labrador.
Smallwood had a dream of free tuition. Therefore, if Timmons wants to honour the legacy of Joey, she should focus on ensuring that his dream becomes a reality.
Originally published in The Telegram on January 10th, 2020.
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.