The election for Memorial University’s Board of Regents Alumni representatives is in its final stretch. On August 15th, 2023, I did a follow-up interview with candidate Theodore Bonnah. We discussed the election process and his campaigning up to this point, along with his thoughts on the Indigenization of Memorial, mental health resources on campus, sexual assault policies, accessibility, the decision to remove the Ode to Newfoundland from convocation, a mandatory U-Pass program, the idea of free education, and the president’s compensation.

How did you find the election process and campaigning up to this point?

The application was point-and-click, so that was helpful, considering we all have lives, and the position is unpaid. I think this will help get more progressive folks who aren’t in it for money or power but just want to make MUN a better place.

Honestly, I haven’t put too much effort into campaigning. I’ve answered requests for interviews, interacted a bit on Twitter, and posted my positions on my research blog. In Japan, politicians go around and make noise with huge loudspeakers and are generally reviled for it. I had a friend there who campaigned quietly and won, and so I think social media and open responses to interviews are a valid, democratic way to go nowadays.

(If only the process of choosing a president was so clear and open!)

Realistically, I am the single, unemployed academic father of a special needs child, and I am crashing at my family home while looking for accommodation – essentially homeless. On the one hand, you could say I shouldn’t be in a leadership position, which favors the pro-business types who usually sit on boards. On the other, who better to understand the needs of students, staff, and faculty during the present crisis? Also, there is a nice selection of progressive candidates with more local experience than I do, so I have high hopes for the Board of Regents alumni election winners, whether I am among them or not.

What are your thoughts on the Indigenization of Memorial?

On the one hand, ‘Indigenization’ has become a watchword for academia all over Canada. Every Canadian university position I applied for before leaving Japan had the standard boilerplate of the university existing on the unceded lands of local indigenous groups. Indigenous Education has also become a valid career path, but you need a specific, newly created academic stamp of acceptance to get in that door. Me being native (NunatuKavut, which is basically Labrador Metis) and having a degree in education wasn’t enough.

So, that is the superficial side of Indigenization. On the flip side, from what I understand, the Labrador campus of Memorial has been making great strides in supporting local culture and the environment. During my MA at Memorial, the resources for native students living in town also had a good reputation. So, kudos for that.

For Canadian universities, you have to claim some connection to Indigenization to be taken seriously these days. I think the issue of Timmon’s claims of native ancestry stems from the contradictions of this academic movement. Indigenization requires a lot more investment of time and resources in supporting the local environment and culture, not just touting native ancestry and creating yet another academic field to net government funding.

Note that during my MA, I worked for the History department, researching and writing about Labrador natives for the Heritage website because I was Labrador Metis. However, my name was not affixed to any copy I wrote. So, in a sense, native erasure is ongoing.

What are your thoughts on the state of mental health resources on campus?

Pitiable and deplorable. As I understand it, the mental health center is seriously understaffed and underfunded. University is a stressful time for anyone, especially with the pressure of COVID-19 and the housing crisis. Adding to that, a lack of mental health resources means students will fall through the cracks. This is unacceptable from a humanitarian standpoint but also doesn’t make sense as a business tactic. Don’t you want paying customers (i.e., students) to pay for four years instead of crapping out after 1 or 2 and telling everyone you didn’t lift a finger to help them through stressful times?

It is a very telling crisis of leadership and reeks of the neoliberal discourse to pull yourself up by your bootstraps while pocketing a 6-figure salary.

What do you think of Memorial’s sexual harassment and assault policies and resources?

Honestly, I am not up to speed. I can say that the response wasn’t there when I was a grad student when sexual harassment from university members was swept under the rug. We, students, were first greeted as having ‘ethics’ when we went to complain en masse, then called us ‘troublemakers’ a week later.

More importantly, in a general sense, the university has a responsibility as an educational institution to safeguard ALL its charges, who are still young people finding their way in a sometimes dangerous urban environment. In Japan, we taught about prevention and aftercare for victims, especially those who came from the countryside to our institution in Kobe. As faculty, we had to counsel students and sometimes accompany them to the police for reports or clinics for medical care.

If MUN is taking students in who may be victims of crime, sexual or otherwise, it has to exercise due diligence and student care. Otherwise, it fails both as a social institution and as a business taking money for service.

In your opinion, is Memorial an accessible campus, and are there sufficient resources and supports for persons with disabilities?

I am not an expert, nor am I disabled, so a lot of things that would stand out to a disabled expert would be invisible to me. That said, the crumbling stairs, the lack of ramps, and the common breakdown of elevators at MUN all scream that not enough is being done to me. And this observation only extends to visible physical disabilities. What about people with autism/ADHD/LD and other invisible disabilities?

I would have to see if there is an Accessibility Committee, what work they’re doing, and what funding they get and can disburse.

Do you agree with the administration’s decision to remove the Ode to Newfoundland from convocation ceremonies?

Honestly, it is a colonial anthem written by a British Governor that sees Newfoundland as an empty ‘frozen land’ ripe for exploitation and completely ignores the existence of indigenous people. Britain had to drop Rule Brittania, Germany binned Deutschland Uber Alles, and Japan axed the Battotai.

Alternately, it would not take much to get some local artists in town to collaborate with Labrador Inuit or Innu artists via the Labrador campus to come up with a better, more representative modern work. Look at Old Mokami – a locally created anthem for Labrador that is far superior to the ode.

And if Government won’t or can’t do it, a supposedly progressive institution like a university should step up to bat.

Would you support a mandatory U-Pass fee for all students?

Absolutely not. It is a huge expense and yet another example of corporate thinking – pass costs down and profits up and let the exec take all the credit. It should at least be opt-out, but universities have a way of making unaware students swallow these costs, like when I had a meal plan forced on me during my time at a university in Quebec.

Honestly, considering the transport difficulties in St. John’s, the university should subsidize students based on their location. Or better yet, buy some houses near campus and turn them into alternative student housing instead of passing the costs and time of commuting on to students.

K-12 is free, and an undergraduate degree is now equivalent to what a high school degree used to be, as research by several sources states that over 70 percent of jobs now require some form of post-secondary education. What are your thoughts on the idea of free education?

There are a couple of issues mixed in here. First, the value of a university degree. In Japan, a bachelor’s degree is what you need to get into the corporate hiring process. So, decoupling a university degree from employment is a North American failing. MUN should work to 1) make more connections to industry to ensure students have a pipeline to jobs after graduation and 2) add work-relative skills to all degrees. For instance, as an English major, my communication skills have netted me work in and outside of academia.

Also, as I noted on my research blog, universities in Finland provide FREE education at ALL levels. This is because the country invests in universities, turning them into engines of innovation and industry. It is where we get the lifesaving wireless EKG monitor and the money-making Angry Birds franchise. Canada as a whole should lean into this and stop aping US for-profit university degree mills. Newfoundland should lead the way, as we did when MUN first opened.

Memorial recently hired a President Pro Tempore with a salary of $434,000. Do you agree with the president being paid this amount? What should the compensation be for Memorial’s next president?

Glassdoor tells us that the average salary for a president is $186,088, with another average $40,000 cash compensation. I think for a pro tempore, which is a placeholder position, MUN is paying on the high side. And because these decisions are made behind closed doors, we don’t know why. If it is all the criticism that makes candidates hard to find, MUN only has itself to blame.

Maybe Dr. Bose will be a bullet sponge for criticism or else a more stable presence. Time will tell.

Looking at the details of the agreement, on top of the high salary, Dr. Bose keeps a research grant, serves as vice chancellor AND his position of research head. That is a LOT of hats to wear (and pocket change), and I hope he is up to the task. I only know that juggling committees, classes, research, and childcare was a major burden for me.

I want to be optimistic and say Dr. Bose, because of his background in research and technological innovation, should be a force for positive change, a proponent of re-investing in the university to make it a center for innovation and growth that sweeps students along in its rise.

But I just don’t know. I wish him well and hope his positive influence extends to ALL students of Memorial, in Arts as well as Sciences.

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.


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