26 July 2008

Globe runs MUN president story

The Globe is reporting what has been rumoured for months, namely that the Premier nixed the nominee to replace Axel Meisen as president of Memorial University.

There are denials - sort of - from the powers that be.

Elizabeth Matthews, who is Mr. Williams's director of communications, said provincial legislation allows the Premier to have the opportunity for input, and the government doesn't apologize for having an interest in who takes on the job. “It would definitely be fair to say that he would ultimately have an interest when the names are brought forward,” she told The Globe earlier this week.

She also denied suggestions that the Premier has interfered in the process. “He can't have interfered because no names have been brought forward yet,” she said.

One minor problem with that bit: it's not correct. The Memorial University Act gives certain power to the Lieutenant Governor in Council - that is the entire cabinet - not just to the Premier.

51. There shall be a president of the university who shall be appointed by the board in consultation with the senate and with the approval of the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

As for the rest, it's a bit of verbal gymnastics that doesn't get to the point one way or the other. Any of a number of people on the senate could have, informally and unofficially, notified the Premier's Office of the name or names under consideration, there by giving plenty of opportunity for the Premier to have his say even though "no names have been brought forward yet" officially.

All deniable.

The Globe makes an increasingly common comparison, one that seems to be finding favour with the 8th:

The current situation harks back to former days in Newfoundland when politics did play a direct role in the leadership of Memorial, which gained university status in 1950 and has long been regarded as a key institution for the province. In 1966, Premier Joey Smallwood picked Lord Stephen Taylor to lead the university. Changes to the university's governance structure in the 1970s eliminated such direct appointments, but still require that the selection of the president be approved by the lieutenant-governor-in-council – essentially the premier and cabinet.

Those who have taken part in recent presidential searches say that approval has been a formality. “The recommendation was not questioned,” said Chris Sharpe, a geography professor who was a member of the committee that chose the last president.



kerri said...

Yeah the "officially" part is a cop-out. Especially because I heard that a reporter asked Williams about the search in a scrum recently, and he said that Eddy Campbell was still being considered (essentially announcing the number one candidate).

Edward G. Hollett said...

Thanks for the comment, Kerri.

When Hillier was appointed, reporters asked the Premier about the president's job, as I recall, and said the whole thing was still being considered.

We likely heard the same stuff and read the same stories.

The only problem with Williams' comments at the time was that he would not have known or ought not to have know what names were being considered.

As the Globe pointed out, the university used to be run at arms length from government. If memory serves, cabinet at one point sided with the university against Beth Marshall when she was auditor general over auditing the books on the grounds the university should be autonomous from government.

You've probably heard the rumours, too which have been swirling around. Campbell was the choice but he was rejected either because of Grenfell or because he wasn't a big enough name. No one will speak on the record - hello, Dale Kirby's Maclean's blog entry - for a bunch of really good reasons.

Given that this administration is so highly centralized, and given the huge array of issues vying for the attention of the people on the 8th, the end of the year would be an optimistic target to set for having the president's job filled officially regardless of what the story is.

It's taken months to figure out what to call departments. It's taken months to confirm deputy ministers in positions they've held in acting capacities. The logo brand thingy went up and down to the 8th heaven's knows how many times in the year and a half it took to finalise. The deputy minister of business couldn't get to see her own boss (when the Prem ran the department) for three and four months at a time. He apparently doesn't speak to his own deputy minister (the Clerk of the Council for two or three months, sometimes, by his own admission.

Tied to all this in some fashion is the Grenfell story, as well, as I noted when Joan Burke offered up her lame excuses as to why it may take until the end of 2009 to resolve that mess.

WJM said...

It'll take until the end of 2009 to figure out how to ram through the appointment of the patronage posting — sorry, the totally non-partisan qualifications-based and academically sound appointment — to the head of Wilfred Grenfell University (or is it Smallwood U? the Danny Williams Institute? oh, the re-branding possibilities.)