$700 suppers show MUN has an 'entitlement problem,' says advanced education minister

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Newfoundland and Labrador's minister of advanced education says Memorial University has some explaining to do if it believes $700 recruitment meals are necessary.

The comment is the latest salvo in the ongoing feud between Gerry Byrne and the university's administrative leaders over MUN's finances.

Speaking outside the House of Assembly Tuesday, Byrne said he respects the autonomy of the university but is calling on officials there to reduce spending.

"This is a discussion about $371 million of Newfoundland and Labrador taxpayers' money and how it is spent," he said.

Byrne said he is on the side of students and taxpayers who don't want the university to raise more money from them.

"This university is not being starved of resources. There was a provocative statement from the VP of Academic and the Provost of the University. Madame Noreen Golfman said that it's perfectly normal and acceptable to host $700 recruitment suppers," he said.

"Well, there is an entitlement problem here. When you say that you are going to offer $700 suppers but [won't] look at one dime of further discretionary spending … the university has some explaining to do," said Byrne.

MUN weighs new options

On April 27, MUN's administration held a town hall forum to discuss the university's financial situation, and try to build a consensus on how to tackle it.

At the meeting, Golfman said increasing tuition or fees for students is not a popular option, but with the government cutting $10-million in infrastructure funding for the university, the administration is left with with few options.

"As senior administrators, we have to do the right thing," she said. "We don't want to be in a place where we are asking for more tuition from international and Canadian students, but this is the place we've come to."

Golfman said one solution could include shifting MUN's model of a research-oriented institution to one more focused on teaching — an approach adopted by other Canadian schools such as Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

She said another option could be to revisit MUN's relationship with Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, something that would undermine years of recent progress when it comes to the relationship with the campus, according to Golfman.

Byrne said Tuesday that he has asked to meet with university administrators to discuss spending as soon as possible.