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.