Allegations that Premier Danny Williams interfered in the search for a new president at Newfoundland and Labrador’s only university raised questions Monday about the school’s autonomy and fuelled concerns that its reputation may be damaged.
Williams was accused in a story by the Globe and Mail on Saturday of rejecting a search committee’s recommendation for Memorial University’s next president, prompting critics to call for an independent process that strips the provincial government of any influence over the outcome.
Under provincial law, the cabinet has the authority to approve or reject the committee’s selection, though approval has long been considered a formality. In some other provinces, such as Nova Scotia and Ontario, universities do not need the approval of their provincial governments to select incoming presidents.
Jon Church, vice-president of the Memorial University Faculty Association, said the controversy surrounding the presidential search could deter promising candidates from seeking the prestigious post and extend an already lengthy process.
“It can’t be a good thing,” Church said in an interview.
“You (candidates) have to pass muster on this one test, and then the next thing you know, you have to make sure that you use the right fork when you go to dinner with the premier too.”
The premier’s office deferred questions to the Education Department. A spokeswoman for Education Minister Joan Burke said she was unavailable for comment Monday.
After a yearlong hunt, Williams vetoed the search committee’s choice for president, according to the report in the Globe and Mail. A spokeswoman in the premier’s office has denied he interfered in the search, saying he couldn’t have intervened because no names have been forwarded to the government.
But last month, Williams said a short list of candidates was delivered to the Department of Education and it included acting president Eddy Campbell.
– The Canadian Press