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 9th, 2023, I interviewed Board of Regents candidate Jennifer Tipple. 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?
This is my second time, as I ran in 2020. I’m a rare breed – a business undergrad/MBA who works with our community’s most vulnerable. I’m fluent in the language of business as well as social justice. The Board of Regents is typically a privileged group of folks, which isn’t always reflective of the Memorial community. In supporting the province’s only University, the Board must ensure it can speak to the needs of all stakeholders.
What experience and skills do you have that would make you a good board member?
I work with End Homelessness St. John’s in the field of housing and homelessness. As Director of Strategy, I’m a big-picture thinker with a focus on strategic impact. I’m also empathetic and socially minded. I have experience as an international student and as an employee of a post-secondary institution. I have plenty of experience on boards and committees, and my colleagues will tell you that I’m not afraid to speak up, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Where do you stand on the Government’s decision to remove the $68.4 million tuition offset grant?
This situation seems very chicken-or-egg to me: which came first, the decision to remove the funding or the decision to raise tuition? The communications are murky, and I can see why students and their supporters feel uneasy. I also understand why the Government would want to explore other options for those funds. I appreciate the Government’s efforts to reinvest those funds directly to students on a needs basis. However, these programs have to be easily accessible and not punitive.
Where do you stand on Memorial’s decision to raise tuition?
It would be difficult to maintain an across-the-board tuition freeze indefinitely, and this one had a good run of over 20 years. The incremental increase for current students seems fair. However, the sudden increase for new students must have felt like a sledgehammer in 2022, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic and rising costs of living. And it creates an odd discrepancy where two similar students sitting next to each other in class could be paying vastly different amounts for the same experience. This is especially true for international students who don’t have access to the same financial assistance or employment opportunities as domestic students.
What do you think of the Government cutting millions of dollars of funding to Memorial’s operating budget in the past few years?
Budgets don’t like surprises. If cuts are planned, they are easier to manage and might have the added benefit of helping a university become more streamlined and efficient.
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)?
I feel like I paid some version of the Student Services fee back in the early 2000s. This is an affordable fee and provides additional good value for money. I struggle with the Campus Renewal fee, and I’m glad that the Government has provided funding to offset this fee. I feel that students’ tuition earns them access to a safe, well-maintained, and accessible campus.
What do you see as Memorial’s role in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador?
That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s interesting that Newfoundland and Labrador have one University, compared to neighbouring Nova Scotia, which has ten or so. With its very name, Memorial is interwoven into the ethos of our province. The onus is almost entirely on Memorial (and CNA) to ensure Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have in-province access to post-secondary education, and that’s a big responsibility.
What are your thoughts on collegial governance?
Governance of any kind is important to ensure adherence to the vision and integrity of an organization. Collegial governance is a bit more nuanced, especially at Memorial, given its unique role in Newfoundland and Labrador. Further, governance is not just something you check off a list, and it’s done. It must be constantly evolving to reflect societal changes and what we have learned – for example, truth and reconciliation.
The Board of Regents currently has a mandatory confidentiality agreement for board members. Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
This is standard for boards. It is important to provide a safe space for all discussions, especially those that are uncomfortable or contentious. While the Board’s decisions must be transparent, the process by which they are arrived at must safeguard members as well.
In your opinion, should Board of Regents members be allowed to speak publicly regarding decisions of the Board and issues pertaining to Memorial?
It is also standard for boards to have a designated spokesperson for media and the public, which is specified in the bylaws. I worked in marketing communications for a decade prior to my current role, and I know from experience how confusing it can be to have multiple people representing a body. It’s common for boards, once decisions are made, to act as one and respond as such.
What are your thoughts on the University using external search firms to fill senior administration positions?
Standard recruitment tools (online, newspaper, etc.) are not as effective with senior positions in academia or elsewhere. External search firms enable universities to target a higher-quality pool of candidates while maintaining objectivity and fairness. This is especially important in smaller communities like Newfoundland and Labrador and when there are internal candidates. However, the University has to be clear on its needs and expectations and is responsible for any final decisions.
What do you think of the growing corporate influence and privatization of Memorial?
It would be hard for any university to resist this trend while remaining competitive and sustainable, especially while government support is being phased out. Besides, universities exist in the same ecosystem as corporations when it comes to employment opportunities for graduates, work terms, research opportunities, training programs, and so on. The onus is on the institution to ensure that corporate partnerships are in line with the institution’s vision and values.
What are your thoughts on freedom of expression and academic freedom?
Fun fact: As a teenager, I had a newspaper column in The Express (a one-time local weekly newspaper) called Focus on Youth. In 1998, I wrote a column about Memorial’s phone registration system for course selection, which was notoriously time-consuming and cumbersome. Today’s students will never know the frustration unless they’re currently trying to get Taylor Swift tickets. My column provoked a letter to the editor from Dr. Art May, Memorial’s president at the time. As long as expression and discourse are respectful and abide by rights and regulations, I think that it is part of the University experience.
What are your thoughts on student protests?
Are students even students without protests?! University is the time when many people first explore what they’re willing to stand up for.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Given my role at EHSJ, part of my campaign is centred on appropriate housing and support for students, especially off-campus. The stereotype of the “poor student” is insidious. Living off ramen noodles is one thing. Substandard housing, overcrowding and landlord discrimination are quite another, especially for international students. Combine a housing shortage with rising costs of living and depleted food banks, and students are unable to meet their basic needs. The situation currently faced by Memorial’s Counselling Centre is just salt in the wound for struggling students.
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.