I was only trying to help: Williams

But Memorial regents say N.L. premier meddled in university business

by Nick Taylor-Vaisey

The governing body of the Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) today stated that the provincial government interfered in the ongoing presidential selection process, calling into question the school’s autonomy.

Premier Danny Williams recently said that the Board of Regents asked the Newfoundland and Labrador government to get involved in the search for a new president. Speaking for the first time about the controversy, Williams said the government was asked to meet with the university’s presidential candidates, to help sell the province to them.

He added that he sees nothing wrong with what the government has done and it was genuinely trying to help the search process.

The Board of Regents said in a statement today that Premier Danny Williams offered to meet with short-listed candidates, and the Board endorsed the idea and extended an offer to Williams. The purpose of the meetings, today’s statement read, was to “promote the province, to emphasize the importance of Memorial to the province and to confirm the government’s strong commitment to university education in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Williams was to conduct the meetings, but they were later delegated to Education minister Joan Burke.

Problems only arose when Burke told the university that the candidates—including the Board’s preferred candidate, interim president Eddy Campbell—were not acceptable and the search should continue. The Board took exception to that.

In a separate statement, the regents insisted that autonomy was of vital importance to the school’s success.

“(MUN) must be free to operate at arm’s length from government, while adhering to provisions that allow for appropriate government oversight and accountability,” it read.

According to the MUN regents, the government’s action “constitutes inappropriate interference in the normal process.” It has recommended that the government amend the Memorial University Act to remove itself from these kinds of processes.

- with a report from The Canadian Press

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