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 11th, 2023, I interviewed Board of Regents candidate Trudy Morgan-Cole. 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 believe everyone has a responsibility to find an area where we can make an impact on our community. There are so many needs all around it that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and think, “I can’t do anything,” just because we can’t do everything. As a graduate of Memorial, a lifelong educator, and a member of the arts community, I feel that Memorial’s Board of Regents is one area where I may be able to make a small contribution.
What experience and skills do you have that would make you a good board member?
My whole working career has been in education; I’ve been a classroom teacher in private and public schools and, for the last seventeen years, with the non-profit adult education program at The Murphy Centre. I’ve seen some of the barriers that people face in trying to get an education – especially people who are already marginalized for reasons such as poverty, mental illness, etc. I want to do what I can to help remove some of those barriers so that more people in our province can reach their full potential. As a writer and a working member of our arts community, I also believe strongly in the importance of the arts in higher education. There’s a tendency, especially in tough economic times, to overemphasize the STEM fields and business degrees as talk about preparing students for the working world. That’s important, of course, but the humanities and the creative arts are a vital part of our University and our community as a whole. We’re a province that trades heavily on our “unique culture,” and as that’s the case, that culture – our history, literature, music, theatre, etc. – should be prioritized in our University.
Where do you stand on the Government’s decision to remove the $68.4 million tuition offset grant?
What do you think of the Government cutting millions of dollars of funding to Memorial’s operating budget in the past few years?
I’m answering these two questions together because my answers for both are very similar. I recognize that these are tough economic times, and those in Government have difficult decisions to make about spending. Education, healthcare, housing, fighting climate change – all these areas need massive investment at a time when the bottom line is demanding cuts. But while I recognize these decisions are difficult, I can’t support these drastic cuts being made to our only University. I believe Newfoundland, and Canada as a whole, should be moving in the direction of making higher education tuition-free, as it is in many countries. While this may seem like a far-off dream right now, I find it discouraging to see our Government taking steps in the opposite direction.
Where do you stand on Memorial’s decision to raise tuition?
With less income coming in from Government, it’s inevitable that the University should look for ways to cut costs and raise revenue, but raising tuition should be an absolute last resort. Students are already struggling to afford a university education – it’s shocking to me that we have students relying on food banks; in that situation, a tuition increase seems like a slap in the face. The steep increase for international students is also very concerning. I think there’s an attitude that stems from several decades ago – which wasn’t entirely true even then – that international students who choose to come to Canada for an education have plenty of money to spend, and so the University can charge them these very high fees. That’s not the reality for most international students today. Many of them are living in poverty and being hard hit by these fees.
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)?
This is not something I’ve done a lot of research into at this point. I imagine, like most user fees, they fall somewhere in the spectrum between genuinely necessary fees and nickel-and-diming students to make up for budget shortfalls.
What do you see as Memorial’s role in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador?
To educate anyone in our province (and those outside) who want a university education. It’s a cliché to say, “preparing the next generation for the future,” but it really is about that. Between Memorial and CNA, any Newfoundlander or Labradorian should be easily able to access and afford a university or trades education that will prepare them for the career they want. Also, of course, Memorial’s role involves doing the research and creative work that shapes the direction of our province in so many ways.
What are your thoughts on collegial governance?
It’s obviously a good thing. Teaching faculty should be represented at all levels of University governance.
The Board of Regents currently has a mandatory confidentiality agreement for board members. Do you agree with it? Why or why not?
In your opinion, should Board of Regents members be allowed to speak publicly regarding decisions of the board and issues pertaining to Memorial?
If I’m fortunate enough to be elected to the Board of Regents, I will abide by any confidentiality agreements that are required of board members, but at the same time, I would be hoping and advocating for more transparency and openness. An organization that belongs to the people of the province should be as transparent as possible about decision-making processes. There needs to be a balance between transparency and protecting the privacy of board members within that process.
What are your thoughts on the university using external search firms to fill senior administration positions?
Again, I feel like this is an area where I need more education before saying anything publicly about it. It’s one of those things that “feel” wrong at a gut level, but I don’t really know much about how senior administrators are hired, here or elsewhere.
What do you think of the growing corporate influence and privatization of Memorial?
It’s very concerning to me. Again, I recognize these are tough economic times for universities, and money has to come from wherever the University can get it, including the private sector. But I worry about the influence of private and corporate donors, particularly if it impacts academic freedom. How free are university researchers to speak out about climate change, for example, if the building in which they’re working bears the name of a company that makes its money from fossil fuels? It’s; unfortunately, the reality of the world we live in that educational institutions rely a lot on private and corporate money, but it requires a hard look at whether that compromises the institution in any way.
What are your thoughts on freedom of expression and academic freedom?
What are your thoughts on student protests?
Broadly, I’m in favour of the freest speech possible and the greatest freedom to protest. That’s not to say there are no limits – “free speech” and “academic freedom” can be used as cloaks for “my inalienable right to offend and attack marginalized people,” and there have to be some boundaries around that. I support protest, but only non-violent protest that doesn’t include hate speech. There have to be guidelines for academic freedom, free speech, and student (and faculty) protest, but the starting point for those guidelines should be the greatest freedom possible without causing harm or inciting violence.
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.