Working for the good of N.L. a core part of MUN’s mandate
Dear Editor, In his Dec. 5th letter, “A challenge for the bright minds at MUN,” Edsel Bonnell challenges Memorial University to take on the significant challenges faced by Newfoundland and Labrador.
He’s not out of line. Memorial is a public institution serving the public good. As such, I am glad that he sees us as an important part of this discussion. We should be, and are. It also makes sense that he mentions the Harris Centre specifically: our work is to bring clarity and context to public policy and regional development, connecting the needs of the province with the resources of Memorial.
In fact, the Harris Centre is working towards a new five-year plan, with input from people and organizations all across Newfoundland and Labrador. Collaboration in service of the sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador is at its heart. Supporting informed discussion on public policy and regional development is part of our mandate, and so I am pleased to contribute to this discussion.
I can attest that the challenge of working towards solutions for provincial problems has been readily, and deeply, embraced by many at this institution, but my goal here isn’t to share a long list of how Memorial has contributed to solving our collective troubles.
Rather, I’d like to emphasize that this scale and complexity of challenge demand solutions that are equally expansive. Today, the fiscal challenges our province is facing are front and centre for most of us, but there are a number of fundamental issues that are also contributing to our difficulties.
As the Harris Centre’s recent Population Project report shows, rural regions in this province are on the edge of a major change to life as they know it. Populations are shrinking, and if we don’t plan for tomorrow, we can predict what will happen.
But that’s the thing: change by itself is neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It’s what we make of it that’s important. While the initial part of the work of the Population Project is to sound the alarm by modelling what some communities will look like 20 years from now, we’re also working with municipalities and regions to come up with solutions that will work in real life.
That’s not something we can do from a desk in St. John’s: it takes intense, long-term collaboration between all of the stakeholders, including governments, the university, industry, social organizations and individuals with an interest in shaping a future that will be different, but sustainable. We’re hopeful that with that sort of complicated, but engaged, partnership, we can find a way to move forward.
The provincial government will always be a key agent in ensuring the province remains sustainable in the long term. But it is not alone. The university, as a publically engaged institution, can contribute a lot, including big ideas, dedicated researchers, facilities, capable and engaged students, and a mandated commitment to bettering life in Newfoundland and Labrador. But once again, we’re just a piece of the puzzle. It will require the combined efforts of everyone in this province to work our way out of our current difficulties.
As our president and vicechancellor, Gary Kachanoski, emphasized in a recent speech to the St. John’s Board of Trade, this university takes its special obligation to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador seriously. We are committed to this place, and stand ready, and prepared, to work with government, business and civil society to tackle the major challenges facing the province at this crucial time in our history.