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 19th, 2023, I interviewed Board of Regents candidate Matthew LeRiche. We discussed his interest in serving as a Board member and his 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?
Because of regular discussions with fellow alumni focused on ideas and concerns about the direction of MUN, I was nominated by a friend. I feel I can contribute to improved stewardship of the University. In the past few years, I have grown more concerned than ever about Memorial as it faces increasing challenges, including its financial situation, aging infrastructure, maintaining the quality of educational standards and fairness for all academic faculty and staff, etc.
What experience and skills do you have that would make you a good board member?
The perspective gained from my time as a student, a per-course/sessional instructor, faculty as well as administration at several very different universities, including Memorial, gives me a valuable appreciation of the different issues facing the groups that make up the University. My even wider experience from the private sector and the government, and from living and working around the globe (including Europe and Africa), allow me a view of the opportunities for Memorial and different ideas on how to address challenges.
Where do you stand on the Government’s decision to remove the $68.4 million tuition offset grant?
Where do you stand on Memorial’s decision to raise tuition?
What do you think of the Government cutting millions of dollars of funding to Memorial’s operating budget in the past few years?
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)?
Let me answer these questions together. I am driven by the principles of accessibility, quality, and impact. On issues of finances, I tend toward whatever decision will allow greater access to wider cross-sections of society. I believe a more diverse student body and faculty make for a better university. I believe we will need more government support to maintain the viability of Memorial, not less. However, we also will need to take new and untried measures outside government assistance to shore-up Memorial as financial challenges are likely only to get worse. Healthy finances will be key to surviving the massive transformation facing higher education in the next 25 years. And since Memorial is Newfoundland and Labrador’s only University, we need it to survive and thrive.
What do you see as Memorial’s role in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador?
As Newfoundland and Labrador’s only University, Memorial plays a critical role in the social, economic, and political life of the province. I believe good governance depends on the impact and education that a university contributes to a community. This is one of the reasons why the already approved Law School is long overdue. The bottom line is a community cannot progress or thrive without a dynamic, critical, and productive University. Similarly, Memorial is a driver of economic and social development. For this reason, MUN has an obligation to be more active on the west coast and in Labrador, not less.
Another important aspect of Memorial’s role is that it is a living memorial. It is meant to act on the memory of those who made sacrifices in the name of Newfoundland and Labrador and our collective future. In that vein, things like peace and conflict resolution and understanding Newfoundland and Labrador’s place in the world are important, and in this area, I would suggest Memorial is currently deficient.
What are your thoughts on collegial governance?
I have been a part of collegial governance in universities of different sizes and at all levels, from departmental to university-wide committees. I feel the approach when done well, has the potential for the best solutions. However, when done poorly, it can be slow and cumbersome. The key is effective leadership. Without the right leadership approach, collegial governance can be very ineffectual.
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?
To oversee leadership effectively, the Board needs to be a safe space for members to challenge the prevailing view and allow for constructive deliberation. Confidentiality can be useful in creating a space for creative and trustworthy debate on difficult issues. So, on balance, I believe some level of confidentiality is needed for a body like the Board of Regents.
What are your thoughts on the University using external search firms to fill senior administration positions?
While I am open to the possibility an external firm might have advantages, they seem quite costly. Also, in my experience, even when a search firm is used, an organization must make the decision on hiring anyway. I believe Memorial is more than capable and should conduct searches on its own.
What do you think of the growing corporate influence and privatization of Memorial?
There are real benefits to strong relationships with the private sector. There are real questions, however, that deserve raising on the ethics of such partnerships, and specific ethical standards may be required. I would suggest that clear and transparent guidelines, with an ethical review process akin to what we do for research, are warranted so that partnerships are in the best interests of the entire Memorial community and in keeping with the purpose of the institution.
What are your thoughts on freedom of expression and academic freedom?
I believe deeply in academic freedom and freedom of expression. In many ways, my own professional life has depended on it. Having lived-in and researched-in numerous countries in conflict where such freedoms do not exist, I also have developed a strong sense of how important it is to protect this freedom in an active way knowing how hard it is to regain once lost. With that in mind, I also believe that neither of these freedoms is an entitlement to do harm to people. I tend to apply the notion that “my freedom ends where others begins.”
What are your thoughts on student protests?
Student protest is an important part of university life. I am hopeful when I see students engaging and voicing their opinions, even if it is an inconvenience to me or my colleagues. While demonstrations and protests don’t always garner the outcomes desired by students, the university is not only a place where students need to use these tools to engage but also needs to be a safe space where students can learn to do things like collective action and organize around a common cause and purpose. Part of building an inclusive and strong university community (including as alumni later in life and while attending courses) is the opportunity to organize around such an important principle of our society as the right to demonstrate and organize.
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.