At a time when some are describing Memorial University as being in chaos, forty-five alumni candidates are running for the school’s governing body. On August 6th, 2023, I interviewed Board of Regents candidate Courtney Jones. We discussed her interest in serving as a Board member and her views on Government funding cuts, tuition increases, collegial governance, the confidentiality agreement, the corporate influence and privatization of the university, free expression, and student protests. See the interview below:
Why did you decide to put your name forward to be a candidate for the Memorial University Board of Regents?
I decided to put my name forward to be a candidate for the Memorial University Board of Regents because I saw it as an opportunity to give back to the university community. I feel as though I have received so many positive opportunities as a result of the five years I spent at the university, and I want to do what I can to ensure a positive university experience for future student cohorts. I also want to ensure the long-term sustainability of the university, particularly given that it is the only university in Newfoundland & Labrador.
What experience and skills do you have that would make you a good board member?
I think everyone running for the Board of Regents has the ability to bring a unique skill set and viewpoint to the work of the Board. Personally, however, I have prior board experience, which I would consider to be an asset. Additionally, having also served a term as a MUNSU representative and as someone who has studied internationally, I think I can bring these experiences to the Board and that I am uniquely positioned to understand the struggles faced by international students.
Where do you stand on the Government’s decision to remove the $68.4 million tuition offset grant?
I think all education, including post-secondary education, is incredibly important. I also believe that post-secondary education should be affordable and accessible for anyone who chooses to pursue this level of education. Obviously, when government funding is cut, the university has to find money somewhere, and it is unfortunate that this burden is often placed on students’ bank accounts.
Where do you stand on Memorial’s decision to raise tuition?
I understand that when an institution struggles financially, money has to come from somewhere. I think there can be a time and a place for increases in tuition – I have previously said that I am not 100% opposed to tuition increases in all circumstances. However, I do think imposing a heavier financial burden on students, many of whom are likely already struggling due to inflation and cost of living crises, should be an absolute last resort, and that methods of mitigating this heavier financial burden should be implemented for students less able to afford the increases. A person’s ability to achieve a university degree should not be impacted by their ability to pay for it, and a student’s financial situation should not impact their academic success (e.g., students shouldn’t have to cut their study hours, thereby resulting in lower grades because they need two jobs to make ends meet).
What do you think of the Government cutting millions of dollars of funding to Memorial’s operating budget in the past few years?
My views on this are essentially the same as those on the Government’s decision to remove the $68.4 million tuition offset grant. Universities need to pay their staff, including faculty, teaching and research staff, administrative and maintenance staff, etc., reasonably. Any cuts to funding will make it more difficult for the university to pay its operating costs. I think it is unfortunate that said cuts can and often do result in a heavier financial burden on students.
Do you agree with the additional compulsory student fees that Memorial implemented in the last few years, including the Student Services fee ($50/semester) and the Campus Renewal fee ($50 per course/semester)?
There are perhaps many improvements to the university’s infrastructure which decision-makers felt had to be made, and with cuts to the university’s funding, this funding would have had to come from somewhere. However, as I have said previously, I do think it is unfortunate that any raising of the university’s revenue being placed as a burden on students is unfortunate, but without knowing what other options were first exhausted and without seeing the entire picture, I find it difficult to comment on this decision.
What do you see as Memorial’s role in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador?
I think Memorial University plays an incredibly important role in Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly as the province’s only university. By having an existing university in the province, it allows those who wish to pursue a university degree to do so without having to leave the province. Additionally, Memorial attracts a significant number of out-of-province and international students, which I think provides valuable contributions to the province’s culture, economy, and workforce.
What are your thoughts on collegial governance?
Given that the two main purposes behind a university – research and teaching, rely on the university’s academic staff, it is important that those teaching and research staff are given a voice in the governance and decision-making of the university.
The Board of Regents currently has a mandatory confidentiality agreement for board members. Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
Without reading the confidentiality agreement, I find it difficult to comment on this. I think transparency is important, but confidentiality agreements do serve a purpose. For example, the Board of Regents has a committee to hear appeals regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault at the university, and in order to protect those reporting, confidentiality is incredibly important.
In your opinion, should Board of Regents members be allowed to speak publicly regarding decisions of the Board and issues pertaining to Memorial?
I think that where appropriate, and where there is no violation of any confidentiality agreement, a representative of the Board ought to be able to provide comment in some situations. However, without knowledge of the contents of the confidentiality agreements, it is difficult to provide further comment on this.
What are your thoughts on the university using external search firms to fill senior administration positions?
My only thought here is that if this is how the Board decided to fill these positions, then I would hope they decided to do so because they thought it was the best decision for the university, including in terms of efficiency.
What do you think of the growing corporate influence and privatization of Memorial?
I think that perhaps corporate partnerships with the university could provide some much-needed funding without placing this burden on struggling students. However, social responsibility must be kept in mind, and overall, my view on universities is that they are important public bodies playing important public functions.
What are your thoughts on freedom of expression and academic freedom?
Freedom of expression is a right protected by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and this must be protected and adhered to. My thoughts on academic freedom are that it is important for the pursuit of knowledge.
What are your thoughts on student protests?
Students have a right to peaceful protest – the right to peaceful assembly is a right protected by the Charter. As long as these protests don’t involve endangering others, damaging property or restricting any essential services (e.g., healthcare), then this right is protected and should be supported.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Just that I would like to thank you for the interview opportunity, and to remind folks that voting is open until August 22nd.
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.