To polite applause from the crowd, Premier Shawn Graham accepted an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of New Brunswick on Wednesday, despite earlier opposition from more than 100 members of the faculty.
Jack Gegenberg, a professor of mathematics at UNB, called it an insult to graduating students.
“By including him in that process of awarding degrees, then it’s a slap in the face to students who had to pay too much to get an education which is being squeezed by the government,” he said.
“Students have had to struggle too hard financially and in other ways to get the kind of education that they want, and it’s certainly because of government policies that maybe they aren’t quite getting their money’s worth.”
The profs are upset that a report sponsored by Graham’s Liberal government recommended major changes to the structure of UNB and the University of Moncton.
The government backed away from the changes as a result of widespread protest.
The open letter signed by the profs states in part that “regardless of any other contributions Mr. Graham might have made to this point in his career, his actions in this respect cannot be regarded as having made an outstanding contribution to our communities, nor do they show regard for higher education in the province.”
Graham, who graduated from UNB 18 years ago with a degree in physical education, told the commencement crowd that he’s pleased people can challenge him.
“What I learned here at UNB was that people who challenged my opinions weren’t enemies,” he said. “Those who made me think about my views did me a favour.”
“Critical thinking and informed opinions are the basis of intelligent and informed debate,” he said.
He went on to say he is committed to improving the accessibility of post-secondary education in New Brunswick.
Despite the honorary degree, Graham said he’s more proud of his wife who will receive her masters of history Thursday.
The premier said he only briefly considered refusing the honorary degree because of her.
“The issue had become so front and centre that I felt it was taking away from my wife’s graduation,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I felt that there would be many mixed messages.”
“I graduated from UNB and I’m proud to be a graduate of UNB.”
Since 1925, UNB has given every New Brunswick premier an honorary degree within their first term in office.
– The Canadian Press