A student in Montreal is hoping a MUN administrator will adjust her attitude after she receives the peanut butter sandwich he sent her in the mail.
John Hutton saw comments on social media made by MUN vice-president (academic) Noreen Golfman last week, defending how much Memorial University of Newfoundland spends on dinners and other events for prospective faculty members.
During an interview, Golfman argued that any "corporate" environment has to provide quality meals to those who are coming to check out their possible future workplace, saying "it's part of the professional face you put on the university."
"We have candidates, high-level researchers who come in here," she said.
"We're not feeding them peanut butter sandwiches, we are doing what professionals do."
An outrageous statement
Hutton said he thought Golfman's comments were insensitive given the fact that many students are actually living in poverty and survive on cheap food such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Kraft Dinner and ramen noodles.
Hutton felt the remarks were glib and out of touch, so he decided to slap some peanut butter and jam on bread and put it in a bubble wrapped envelope – as per Canada Post guidelines.
He included a picture of Marie Antoinette, the former Queen of France who famously declared, "let them eat cake" prior to the revolution that ended with her head in a basket.
"I thought that was a really outrageous statement to be making to students if they're proposing pretty substantial fee hikes as they're wining and dining themselves at $700 a pop," Hutton told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.
"I think [MUN] is an inspiration for people across the country that actually want to see education be accessible for everybody."
Lobster for your PB & J?
Along with the sandwich and and the picture of Marie Antoinette, Hutton also included a letter he wrote to Golfman in the package.
In it, he brought up an anecdote about how decades ago in outport Newfoundland, lobster was considered food for the poor, and school-age kids would often try to trade their lobster sandwiches for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches brought by richer kids.
He felt there was some interesting irony in Golfman's comments against the backdrop of that little bit of history.
"If you try and take university back to a time when university was just for the rich, you should also trade your lobster and your caviar for a peanut butter sandwich," he said.
"It was really a way to make a statement that the attitude is not acceptable and just out of touch."
Culture of spending
Hutton expects his package to arrive at Golfman's office sometime Monday, and hopes it will make MUN administrators think twice about making insensitive comments — and perhaps sway them in the direction of keeping the university's tuition low.
As a student who had to leave his home province of Nova Scotia because he couldn't afford the high tuition, Hutton would like the story of his peanut butter sandwich to remind Newfoundlanders and Labradorians about the dangers of letting university administrators raise tuition fees in the name of staying competitive.
"The president of Memorial is making something upwards of $450,000 a year, and it's just getting higher and higher every year because they're just comparing themselves to each other," he said.
"These are public institutions, they're funded by the taxpayer — and yes it's important to have well funded universities, because the public benefits from that — but it's important for that money to go towards teaching, learning and research and not lavish administrative spending."