On December 7th, 2022, VOCM Open Line host Paddy Daly spoke with MUNSU’s John Harris.
Paddy Daly: Line number one say hello to the Director of External Affairs at Memorial University Students’ Union, that’s John Harris. Good morning, John, you’re on the air.
John Harris: Hi, how’s it going Paddy?
PD: Doing Okay. How you doing?
JH: Doing good, doing good.
PD: What’s on your mind?
JH: So yeah, just wanted to touch base I heard Vianne Timmons, the President of Memorial on the radio yesterday talking about the protest that went on at the event last Friday. Just wanted to talk about how proud I was to see students stand up for tuition doubling and for accessible education on Friday where we presented a pink slip to Vianne for failing to secure post-secondary education funding from the provincial government.
PD: And how does that work realistically or pragmatically for the president to secure funding because surely, she and other leaders at Memorial University didn’t want to deal with $60 odd million less.
JH: I mean you’d think that would be the case but from what we’ve been hearing from Vianne, just yesterday she was on, or the day before, she was on Anthony Germain, she said the tuition freeze wasn’t working for anybody. So, you know we don’t really have any support for getting the funding back from the government from the president. The president of the university has been in lockstep with the provincial government on this. They’ve been a united front and it really doesn’t seem like to us that she really cares that $68.5 million is being taken away from the university.
PD: Okay and I can’t speak for her on that front. Let me bounce this off you and I know that the tuition freeze was… any thoughts of talking about it was just a non-starter. For many people at the university, and look I pay for my boys to go through, so I got some skin in this game. The tuition freeze at some point was going to come to an end and what we saw was as opposed to getting a tax break on tuition, we saw an increase in fees and we didn’t have any discussions about even minimum hikes in tuition reflective of operational costs what have you. Two percent or whatever the number is because that did not happen and it was always, just my personal, I’ve been talking about this for years, there was always going to come a time when the funding was going to be cut off or decreased to the level where we will see all of a sudden, an explosion in tuition. Did we mishandle the tuition freeze overall given where we are now?
JH: I don’t know if I agree with you there that there’s a determinist aspect to this you know we are the students at Memorial and we are the people of the province and we got a say or what we want to fund and what we don’t want to fund. I think that the students have really been coming together from our protest against the provincial government back All Out Like 99′ and you’ve seen throughout the history of our province and our student movement that students are ready to push, and they want fully funded accessible education and you know a $68 million is a drop in the bucket when it comes to the overall provincial budget you know. The provincial budget, yes, we’re in turmoil as a province but cutting Memorial isn’t going to solve that. We can’t put the debt of the province on the backs of our students and our future.
PD: No argument there. Once again, I do have skin in the game and one of my sons is still at Memorial University. For me, I mean I talk about it in these terms. So, when people are polled come election time what are their primary concerns? It’s the economy and taxes and healthcare and the environment and criminal justice and well down the line, always well down, certainly when we talk about education as provincial jurisdiction, education is always way down the line. When in fact if education was everyone’s primary concern, we would do better in healthcare, the economy, and taxes, and the environment, and all the way down the line. It’s funny the skewed way we look at education and there’s zero argument coming from me that the better educated the populous is the better chance we have of a viral long-term profitable province.
JH: Absolutely, I totally agree with you there Paddy. You know the $68.5 million dollar cut per year is short sighted coming from the Furey government. We really make austerity decisions in times like these that come back to bit us in the but. You know there’s not going to be any good coming from this. Really disappointed to see the president of the university isn’t standing with the students on this one.
PD: Yeah, I mean I don’t know where we go from here… Does it all fall back to the province because I know you’re landing a lot of it in Dr. Timmons’s Office when the amount of money that the province spends with at Memorial University is very similar to the level that the Government of Nova Scotia does but they’re funding 10 universities. So, are you laying it on Dr. Timmons’ office or does the blame or the concern lay with Minister Coady or Premier Furey?
JH: I think they share the blame on this one Paddy because we don’t see any support coming from the administration office on this. They talk out of two sides of their mouths when it comes to protest. At first, they always like to say ‘oh we love peaceful protest you know we encourage it’ and then when peaceful protest actually does happen like we saw on Friday they turn around and intimidate, punish, threaten. There’s a really kind of authoritarian culture coming out of the administration office we’re really disappointed to see. You know we’re not getting any support from the president’s office, so you know there’s the ones who doubled tuition. Yes, it was because of provincial cuts but they’re working together on this one and coming out on a united front so we’re protesting both of them.
PD: The comment coming from Dr. Timmons was that she also says there’s an expectation of appropriate decorum coming from protesters whether they be formal members of MUNSU or anybody else at the university or anybody else who cares about the university. She thinks that she’s not being treated with the level of respect and the type of decorum required even in the setting like the report to the community which was the issue which you’re speaking to there. What do you make of those comments?
JH: Well, that’s the thing Paddy when you have a report to the community where basically we saw what she was talking about. This was an opportunity to pat themselves on the back for a great semester and a great year and the same semester that they’ve made it twice as hard for students to get an education and you know we got to take those opportunities to say you know what we’re not going to let you pat yourselves on the backs, this is a semester where you doubled tuition for all students and you know we’re not going to let you that this is a great semester. So, we just protested it’s important. We have a strong history of protest but as protest so this was very tame, it was you know a few students with a sign, same thing happened last president with Dr. Gary, the pink slip saying resign and any kind of protest they’re not going to be happy with so we’re not going to be accused of being harassing or intimidating when the university has all the power in this situation.
PD: Is there a particular reason why it’s Dr. Gary and Vianne versus Dr. Kachanoski and Dr. Timmons?
JH: You know presidents are people just like you and I you know. I have the same level of respect as I do for you as I do for Dr. Timmons.
PD: That doesn’t sound very good.
JH: The same amount of respect I have my friend or my student or my co-worker. You know I view people on the same plane and I think that the idea of respectability in politics… it’s a sign of authoritarian culture that’s going on at the administration’s office.
PD: And I mean, and you can view me as you see fit but it doesn’t seem like you have much respect for the president of the university and if you have the same level of respect for me that’s interesting, but I can take it, I’m a big boy. Last one that I’ll put out there is – I also asked her about this and we’re been talking about because housing is a crunch whether it be foreign students and/or students moving in to town from Gander to find a home and in the post doc world there used to be a program at MUN called Home Share – you matched up a student with a senior for a cut rate in rent for some household chores and whatnot. The senior wins, the student wins, the university wins, we all win and others looking for housing they win as well. Any thought or talk inside of MUNSU about that because that could really benefit some of the people you are representing.
JH: Absolutely I mean housing is always a concern for us, we have a huge population of students who are constantly coming to us saying that we have problems with our landlord, rent is too high, problems with res, we are constantly engaged on that. We’re always looking for ways to advocate for housing, it’s a huge problem especially you know with inflation going on, the rent rates have skyrocketed.
PD: Appreciate the time this morning John, thanks.
JH: Thanks Paddy, have a good one.