It’s only rotten near the top

By Ivan Morgan
November 24, 2023 Edition

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, an old expression that warns not to lose sight of the main issue.

One of the things that’s always made me crazy about my old alma mater (that’s fancy talk for my school) Memorial University (MUN), is their endless cheery upbeat press releases, publications and announcements. If you believe their press, everything at Memorial University is always politically correct sunshine and lollipops. There’s a great phrase to describe this: toxic positivity.

We are now learning otherwise. The auditor general released an audit of the institution finding, among a host of other things, that the folks in charge have been paying themselves very handsomely. In some cases, paying themselves almost twice what the AG says they are worth. Paying themselves much more than contemporaries make at other Canadian universities. The AG found our humble little university has the highest administrative costs per student in Canada. Plus, executives gave themselves golden pensions, golden leave policies; the list goes on.

This just adds to a string of leadership problems that have plagued the place.

The university is separate and apart from the government, and while it receives funding from the taxes we pay (75 percent of its $380 million budget), we give them the cash with no strings.  That’s the way it has to be to ensure their independence. Sadly, that independence led to the leadership deciding they needed to pay themselves extravagant salaries and figured there was little you and I could do about it.

It would be easy to write a rant about these self-satisfied, entitled clowns but I am not going to. Frankly they aren’t worth the time and space.

I want to write about all the good our university does in spite of the top-heavy over-paid administrative burden we apparently pay for.

Our university is full of very clever people following their passions and, as a tradeoff, teaching young people. I loved my time at MUN and looked up to many of the professors who taught me. They were knowledgeable, and passionate, and cared about our education.

I like to think of the university as an institution that generates a passion for knowledge. University may not be for everyone, but the institution belongs to all of us. The fact that MUN’s leadership continues to be a national embarrassment must not overshadow the work done by the many talented people who work there.

I am in awe of many of those people.

As just one example, I am fascinated by paleontology (that’s the study of ancient life) and the team of paleontologists we have working at MUN are astounding. I follow their work closely and go to all their public lectures, and marvel at the fascinating fossils (well, fascinating to me anyway) they have discovered in our province. They are studying them and telling us – and the rest of the world – about them.

At a time when the term “world class” is just high-grade political BS, these folks really are. We are lucky to have them.

Not into fossils? No worries. My point is there are plenty of folks at our university who conduct all manner of amazing research into many topics. They have a passion for their studies, a passion for learning new things, exploring new ideas and, in many cases, a passion for teaching. In short, they have passion. We need that passion. A clever person who works there pointed out to me that many of these people would do their work for free if they had to, so strong is their desire to learn. The burden they all share, she said, was a bloated administration. 

They help expand the minds of young people (and old farts like me), and teach them all about the world, and more importantly, inspire many young minds. There is so much to learn, to understand. There’s an old truism that states the benefit of a good university education is learning how little you know about anything.

All institutions need to be rejigged from time to time. Certainly, MUN needs serious housecleaning at the top. Let’s hope this happens. But don’t be angry at the university. Don’t let the greedy folks who have looted the place for their own personal gain sour you on the place. For sure the bathwater needs draining, but let’s cherish what remains in the tub.

Ivan Morgan can be reached at ivan.morgan@gmail.com

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