Just recently I found myself catching up on my editorial reading and noticed Russell Wangersky’s editorial of May 14. I noted the slightly ironic and righteous tone that passes for journalistic style these days. Don’t get me wrong, I like his work; he’s one of the better editorialists in the province
Generally speaking, though, I’m troubled by the decay of the fourth estate in this province. As campaign manager for Jim Parsons' mayoral campaign, I was shocked at how well The Western Star managed to cover the campaign given the paltry resources they have to work with. And, even then, I felt there were serious issues that did not receive adequate coverage, while much of the media was diverted by foolishness over wieners and benches. So, I am grateful for the sage commentary that Wangersky brings to the pages of the province’s main newspapers.
The press is called the fourth estate because it is deeply involved in the way we are governed and in the fate of governments and politicians. Think of the good film, “The Post” (about the release of the Pentagon Papers), and the excellent film, “All the President’s Men” (about Watergate). In each case the press deeply influenced the course of history and the public political culture of the United States, the one turning the public tide against the Vietnam War and the other, deposing a president.
The press did this by looking beyond common prejudice in order to question the status quo. This is a vital service. In the past, Wangersky has used his platform with integrity to interrogate a variety of issues the Province faces.
So you can understand my disappointment in seeing his editorial from May 14 mouth a common townie trope, “Heck, maybe a cash-strapped university can’t afford to operate two campuses on opposite sides of a big island anymore.” The last time we heard this ignorant nonsense was from no less an august personage than the Provost of Memorial who responded to minister Gerry Byrne, “Should we give up Grenfell Campus” (April 28, 2017)?
So in little over a year we have had the most powerful academic administrator at Memorial and the most influential editorialist in the province casually raise the possibility of closing Grenfell Campus. And while this may, indeed, be an ironic Swiftian provocation, it seems more like a dog whistle to me, one meant to be heard by those who share a common prejudice.
The Locke-Lynch report of 2014 indicates that provincial GDP per year originating in the Corner Brook/Deer Lake region as a result of Grenfell activities is $68,000,000, from an investment of $30,000,000. On top of that, Grenfell has become a social and cultural force in the region. Its influence on arts, culture, and tourism is exceptional. It is advancing innovative projects in collaboration with the Mill and the Agricultural sector. This seems like an extremely good investment.
Further, Wangersky is mistaken in his sense that Grenfell is funded by Memorial University. It is funded in a separate budget envelope by the government. We do not exist on sufferance from the St. John’s Campus. The campuses in principle play mutually supportive roles in diversifying and developing the economic, social and cultural life of the province. It is an illusion and myth that shutting Grenfell down would be of significant benefit to the St. John’s Campus. It’s time to forego such irresponsible and prejudiced rhetoric.
David Peddle teaches philosophy at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University in Corner Brook.