A former Memorial University Modern Languages and Communications Professor, Erwin Warkentin, spoke out about the current situation involving Marine Institute and OceanGate. He stated, “All universities have made a deal with some devil or other at some point in their history. This happens to be Memorial’s.”
Warkentin said that the Marine Institute, to some extent because of the way it is funded, has seldom been a comfortable fit for Memorial and, therefore, has a habit of working with private industry. He said, “The question is, were Shea et al. just so star-struck by the idea and the pretense of money that they lost sight of what being part of a university is supposed to be.”
Furthermore, Warkentin said, “I think the process of how the MOU came about needs to be looked at. Let’s face it: it would not have gone ahead without the approval of the then-president. Moreover, the Marine Institute has a culture of thinking themselves somewhat separate from Memorial. Memorial, I think, needs to either take tighter control of their operation or cut it loose. Just my humble opinion as a retiree.”
When asked if he thought safety was even a thought of the administrators at the Marine Institute, Warkentin said, “I don’t know what their process was. However, I think they were ‘star-struck’ and only saw dollar signs… I think they assumed it was safe and never went through a rigorous process to check if it was.”
Regarding if it speaks to the general carelessness of university administrators, Warkentin said, “They might argue that I’m too cautious. I think they get tunnel vision and may not see the potential problems. They might also be blinded by the money they think they might be able to bring in. If they would not have to work within this model where they are dependent on people who appear to have money.”
When asked about a statement from a professional expedition leader and exploration consultant, Rob McCallum, made that he considers it to be an isolated incident and that it shouldn’t dissuade Marine Institute from partnerships in the future, Warkentin said, “They are saying they got sloppy once. What is to prevent it from happening again? A stricter approach in which the Marine Institute must run it by an appropriate authority at the university. The problem is that they don’t like being policed. I would suggest that as long as they are in a position to damage the reputation of Memorial, then they need tighter oversight. Believe it or not, when we made changes to our programs in Modern Languages, we asked if they had any input. I can’t remember them saying anything, or then they didn’t, or this, that or the other thing looked okay; however, that is the foundation of collegial governance. If we stopped running things by them, they are very quick to point that out.”
In conclusion, Warkentin said, “I don’t think they should be dissuaded from future partnerships. However, they should demonstrate that they will exercise greater caution.”
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.