Thursday, July 31, 2008

University Politics/Politics of Universities

Much complaint about the Government of Newfoundland taking a hand in selecting a new president for Memorial University, supposedly threatening academic freedom. This blog has been covering it, as has the Globe & Mail.

I'm not sure. University presidents these days are mostly about marketing, promotion, and business development -- the full CEO model, and usually paid that way too. Since academic credentials are no longer very important, one can see why the provincial government, which pays most of the bills, is unwilling to leave the choice to academics. Given the way university boards are appointed, there's long been only a modicum of independence anyway.

What's more significant is the bullying, demagogic, we-do-what-we-want and no-one-messes-with-us attitude shown by the Newfoundland government of Danny Williams on this matter and much else. It's not that the university needs a special exemption from that style of government; more that the whole province does. Newfoundland needs to think about accountability and the lack of it.

We have in Canada a propensity for provincial governments to rack up large mandates and then govern unfettered for years at a time. In a parliamentary democracy, what is supposed to restrain the prime minister and cabinet on a daily basis is the legislature, specifically the majority caucus.

Except... uniquely in Canada among parliamentary democracies, we have determined that party leaders are not accountable to their caucuses. Chosen by extra-parliamentary "conventions," party leaders are accountable between elections to no one unless and until another convention comes together. Why are we surprised when they act that way?

Premier Williams (Campbell, Stelmach, McGuinty, fill in the name) gets away with one-man-rule, well, because Canadians won't take steps to prevent it.
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