On October 24th, 2023, Memorial University President Neil Bose participated in a segment on CBC’s show On The Go with Anthony Germain. See below a transcript of the episode:
Anthony Germain: We’ve already heard some reaction to the Auditor General’s scathing report on Memorial University on today’s edition of On The Go. Denise Hanrahan released that report yesterday and spoke here right across from me about some widespread inefficiency in overspending that she says she detected in the scope of this audit. For response from the university earlier today, I went over to the campus and sat down with Dr. Neil Bose. He’s the President and Vice-Chancellor of MUN. One of the things I wanted to talk about was the Auditor General’s findings with respect to executive search firms. You know, the head-hunters. The Auditor General’s findings indicate that MUN spent over a million dollars to hire 15 managers and executive positions, and yet five of those 15 didn’t work out. They left those positions, and I asked Dr. Bose what kind of value for money MUN is getting if it hires a head-hunter firm in this kind of transaction, but one-third of the people who get headhunted leave.
Neil Bose: So, we have taken the approach in the last six months to not use executive search firms except in special cases that are approved on a case-by-case basis. We’ve taken that decision. It’s a balance between having people hiring the executive search firms or having expertise in-house, and we’ve taken the approach that since we do have a relatively large number of searches on-going, and we’ll always have a number of searches on-going that we’ll build up that expertise in-house and avoid the use of executive search firms except in particular cases where we need a particular focus on a particular discipline area. One I think of recently in that category is likely to be the Dean of Medicine search.
AG: Okay, and I think most people understand that for certain specific important positions or high-ranking positions such as, I think, is the term Pro Tempore still attached to your…?
NB: Yes, exactly. I’m Pro Tempore, which means for the time being.
AG: So, does that mean that an executive search will be hired to replace you when you decide you want to leave and go to Tasmania or whatever your plans are after you’re here?
NB: So, for me, that decision would be, for my position, the decision would be made by the Board of Regents.
AG: As to whether to use a search firm? But normally for president of a university that would be considered I think a normal use of an executive search firm, wouldn’t it?
NB: It would normally, yes. In fact, I’m not sure if that I’ve seen a search for a president that hasn’t involved an executive firm but there’s nothing absolutely decreeing that should be the case if there’s expertise in-house just that normally when you look for a president you need to look widely, cast the net widely for that.
AG: Great, but if I understood what you said previously for, I guess, for other positions that MUN has in the past hired an executive search firm, you won’t be going that route for a number of them?
NB: That’s exactly right. So, we are now progressing through a number of searches for Deans. We are doing those searches in-house through resources through human resources. We also are about to start two Vice-President searches. One for the Provost and one for Vice-President Marine Institute. The decision on whether to use a search consultant is actually a decision that the search committee makes itself, but we will be recommending, I will be recommending that we use in-house resources where we can.
AG: Okay. Given the catalogue of these findings altogether and, I heard what you had to say yesterday when this came out. I know that the previous universities I graduated from call me every year, asking for my generosity to reimburse them for my undergraduate degree, my graduate degree, and most recently, an education degree from this fine institution. What concerns do you have about the impact of the Auditor General’s report with respect to MUN’s fundraising efforts because I suspect some people think, well, given what the Auditor General says, why should I give MUN a penny?
NB: Well, each of the dollars that we get in donor support goes to exactly where the donor intended it would go to. We have good relationships with donors, and we work hard to maintain those relationships. When I have met with donors, as I have done on a visit to Toronto in the middle of the summer period, I’ve always had very strong, positive reinforcement of their support for the university from them.
AG: Though when they look at particularly the finding that suggests the admin costs are out of proportion per the cost per student, you don’t think that some donors might think twice and say, look, until MUN gets its act together, I’m not going to give them any money.
NB: I think donors will always look at that. Of course, they want to see the public dollars that come into Memorial are spent in an efficient way, in a wise way. We are committed to exactly the same thing, so we are putting in place more and more approaches, reviewing our policies to ensure we address the findings of The Auditor General’s report.
AG: Dr. Bose, it seems frequency whenever I get a chance to interview you it’s about a difficult subject and I think one of the main areas people remember is what happened with your predecessor and how you came to occupy the position that you do. How much of what’s described in the Auditor’s findings happened on Dr. Vianne Timmons’s watch compared to before?
NB: I can’t actually comment on the detail of previous employees, and what I can say is that both the senior executive, our administrative operations, and the Board of Regents are working hard to make sure that as we move forward, we do so in a way that keeps in mind all of our policies and the expenditures are in line with those policies.
AG: But if, I guess the other side is if, it can be very easy to blame a lot of this on someone who no longer works here and someone who is no longer in charge, but are some of the problems identified by the Auditor General systemic in nature because the provincial government had to actually change the legislation in order to make it possible for the Auditor General to get the access that she felt she needed. If it wasn’t on your predecessor, is it a more systematic problem?
NB: We’ve welcomed the Auditor General into our organization, we provided everything we possibly can to the Auditor General, and we’re genuinely interested in the report. Of course, it’s tough on us. Of course, we have to. There’s the media associated with that and the focus on the university, but we’re committed, we’ve accepted the findings, and we’re committed to bringing in changes to improve what we do.
AG: You mentioned the findings. One of her findings is a recommendation that MUN needs to tighten up its conflict of interest and fraud risk management processes which I think you know you hear the word fraud it rings an alarm bell. How does one come away from this report, I’m going to use some strong words, you can respond the way you see fit but how do you come away from this report without concluding or thinking that there’s some element of either incompetence given the lack of oversight or perhaps even corruption?
NB: Those are strong words, as you said. We have in place conflict of interest policy, and we also have a conflict-of-interest committee. We have public disclosure routes we are absolutely totally behind ensuring that conflict of interest minimize, they don’t occur, and fraud of course we don’t want to go there.
AG: But why else would she be raising this as a specific recommendation if she wasn’t concerned about it actually existing?
NB: As far as I know, there are no instances of those in the university at the present time, and we want to ensure that we abide by our policies going forward to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
AG: But her report does show examples of double dipping with respect to car allowances and mechanic bills or the consultant who was actually on the Board at Harlow who never finished his report. I mean, some of these things, there is a bit of a smell off some of them, not all of them, and I’m not suggesting that MUN is rotted to the core like that, but I would suggest to you that she’s telling you need to tighten things up because of those examples and not out of some sort of general principle but some very specific concrete examples that she cites.
NB: And we listened to the Auditor General, the consultant that’s referred to no longer works at the university, the instances of former employee spending. We will ensure that our policies are in place and are strictly abided by going forward.
AG: Just two more questions for you, and I appreciate your time. The report points out in a certain context how well Vice-Presidents here are paid I guess to put it in a fairly neutral way. It strongly suggests that MUN has too many Vice-Presidents, and my question to you is, what interest would those Vice-Presidents have in moving ahead with any recommendations to address whether there are too many Vice-Presidents?
NB: So, we do, will review our operations at regular intervals. We need to look at how we are structured. We have a different structure to some of the other universities that close to us in that we have multiple campuses, and so we’ve got a Vice-President for each of our other main campuses. We also have a Vice-President Indigenous which is a particular focus for Memorial University to make sure that when reconciliation issues are raised to the level of senior executive that’s where we stand but there’s things are always possible to change.
AG: Now I know that you’re an experienced academic and an experienced administrator, and you know the politicians of course are jumping on this as are the media, as am I because I’m here talking to you. Can MUN actually fix this, or does some kind of something akin to receivership or commission of government have to happen to help MUN get back on track. How confident are you internally MUN can actually turn things around so that if the Auditor General comes back, which I’m sure she will that, any of this will actually be fixed?
NB: Definitely, Memorial can fix this and change things for the better. In fact, the university operates very efficiently and effectively. We have a strong administration; we’ve got a new Board, and our new Board is a very strong Board, so I’m confident that we can go forward in a way which is in line with good policies approaching spending of the public funds entrusted to the university.
AG: So, when you say new Board, do you mean Board of Regents or, there were elections, that’s right.
NB: Yes, that’s right. So, we’ve had six new members on the Board of Regents appointed since July.
AG: When you look at this report, did you think part of you, part of Neil Bose, sort of said I wish the Board of Regents had asked a couple of questions about this or that?
NB: Well, actually, we already moved along these lines over the last six months or so. So, we have our Internal Auditor in the Office of Internal Audit and some of the things that were identified in those internal audits we’ve already put into action and making changes to take those things into account.
AG: Alright, Dr. Bose, I appreciate your time. Thank you for inviting me over here to your office, and good luck.
NB: Thank you very much.
AG: That is Dr. Neil Bose, the head honcho, the President and Vice-Chancellor at Memorial University, so there you go. Certain disagreements, I suspect, with the Auditor General, although in agreement that all the recommendations are something that MUN will accept, and before that, earlier in the show, you heard the Premier saying that as far as the government is concerned, the Auditor General’s not going anywhere and MUN will be held to account to make sure that it actually does act on these recommendations.
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.