One of the organizers of a Memorial University conference held at a luxury hotel says the event was costly, but it wasn't as pricey as it appeared and contributed to a valuable university partnership.
In November 2021, MUN's president chaired a four-day Arctic Forum at the Fogo Island Inn, with costs totalling more than $100,000.
A university spokesperson said $56,657 of that cost came from university coffers, while federal sources covered $24,453 and the rest came from attendees.
It was the third Arctic Forum, which began in 2015. The conference is a partnership between MUN, the University of Tromsø in Norway and the Shorefast Foundation, the social enterprise that owns the Fogo Island Inn.
Rob Greenwood, MUN's associate vice-president of public engagement and an organizer of the Arctic Forum, said there was concern about cost, as university budgets have been shrinking in recent years.
Greenwood said moving the event to St. John's and hosting it at the university's Signal Hill Campus was considered up to a month before the conference. However, that decision would have likely spelled the end for MUN's partnership with the Shorefast Foundation, he said.
"We certainly could've … moved it to St. John's, but we could have kissed goodbye the relationship that was originated with Shorefast Foundation," he said.
"Marine Institute does a bunch of work out there with the cod pots, Natalie Slawinski and a team from the business school have developed a whole new approach to community development based on collaborating with Shorefast, so I think connecting it to the owners of a hotel isn't fair to that social enterprise."
$350 a night for rooms
The Inn's website lists its cheapest room at $2,875 a night for a minimum three-night stay.
Greenwood said Shorefast gave a significant discount on rooms at the Inn — $350 a night, including meals
"It still isn't cheap, but if you include meals actually, and if you look around post-pandemic and stay at hotels and buy meals, we all know prices have gone through the roof," he said.
Greenwood said he still raised the concerns about costs to MUN President Vianne Timmons, who decided — along with the president of the University of Tromsø — to hold the event at the Fogo Island Inn.
That decision drew criticism from the university's faculty association this week, which is still in negotiations to reach a new collective agreement. The association said members are prepared to walk off the job if an agreement is not reached by midnight on Monday.
Progressive Conservative MHA Barry Petten also criticized the cost of the conference Thursday, saying university administrators were "out of touch."
"It comes across to the common person in Newfoundland and Labrador as elitism," he said.
Greenwood said the conference was a productive one and will have results, but people have to judge the costs for themselves.
"It comes down to partnerships and collaboration, and this is something that I work in all the time, if you work on something with somebody for two, three, four, 10 years, if you're going to see it through, you see it through," he said.
"But, admittedly, it was not cheap for the booking of the meeting rooms, booking the meals and I think it is a cost of doing business for universities doing workshops and conferences. People travel around the world to present papers all the time."