Heading Photo via Matt Barter Twitter
With classes having returned to in-person learning (since January 31st) the conflict between Matthew Barter and MUN’s administration has yet to be resolved.
Barter, a 25-year-old MUN student pursuing a degree in political science, has recently caught the public’s eye through both his articles and public protests in disfavour of MUN’s tuition hike.
In particular, a silent protest involving Barter holding a sign that read “STOP VIANNE! No to tuition hikes and out of control spending!” during a press conference has received much attention— from both MUN’s disciplinary committee and the president herself.
Although Barter has been protesting tuition hikes “as far back as 2015,” he maintains that “it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“I was banned the next day,” stated Barter, referring to the interim measures which prohibited him from campus. At the time, the only exceptions included attending class, taking exams, or seeking medical attention; however, Barter was required to check-in and be escorted by Campus Enforcement and Patrol or risk involvement with the RCMP.
Barter’s lawyer and also MUNSU’s legal representation, Kyle Rees, was available to provide insight on the ongoing status of Barter’s interim measures. Rees stated that he received a “strong indication that these conditions would be lifted, only to find out that Matt, as he frequently does, tweeted some unfavourable things about the university and the administration over the weekend.”
Rees argues that Barter was “continuing his work as a campus journalist.” Despite this, “some upset emails from MUN’s administration followed, and then lo and behold […] we received a letter saying that the conditions were only being changed such to allow him in the library, the UC, and his classes where he [had] to check in with the CEP.” Barter also stated that he currently does not require a check-in with CEP to access specific areas such as the library or the UC.
The email in question referenced two events that were “interpreted as harassing and intimidating”: the aforementioned silent protest and a conference in September where Barter publicly asked President Timmons why his protest posters were removed from campus. Interestingly, Barter also received a complimentary email days later from the MUN’s Chief Risk Officer, Greg McDougall, referencing events from 2019 and 2018.
“I felt frustrated,” admitted Barter, “And I also felt that the administration was targeting me and that they are essentially trying to shut me up.”
Rees seconds this opinion.
“Whenever we raise this issue with the university they say no one’s going to stop him from saying his opinion, but it seems that anytime Matt says something critical, the university takes issue with it,” Rees discloses. “So, I think the fundamental disagreement here […] is the difference between politically protesting unpopular decisions made by administration and harassment.”
In terms of what Barter can do legally, Rees admits, “I’ve already been surprised by Memorial’s conduct in this matter already, so I won’t purport to know what to do here.”
Accordingly, the interim measures last only as long as the investigation- which is set to be resolved by March. Further, Rees is not sure he can obtain a court date before that time.
However, he assures that they’re “pretty confident that the investigation is going to find that no harassment occurred and that as a result all of these conditions will be lifted […] so while I do take the position that what Memorial University has done is inappropriate, and contrary to principles of justice, and freedom of expression, I think the more practical approach is to allow the investigation to conclude and I’m hopeful that Memorial will realize the error of their ways and extend an apology to Matthew once the investigation is concluded.”
On the other hand, Barter worries that his experiences may prevent other students from taking a stand.
“I would say to keep fighting the tuition raise, but it does bother me seeing that a lot of students are terrified,” says Barter. He goes on to mention how he noticed there was a petition for MUN to have online options for classes the other day, and “the students commented anonymously or [would] not even use their full names.”
Although Barter informed me that the interim measures prevented him from contacting the president directly, he maintains that he stands by the opinion that “President Timmons needs to resign from her position.”
“She said we are all on the same team and we all need to do our part during these [difficult] financial times, but she is spending money like when the times are normal.” Barter also went on to refer to President Timmons’ almost $60,000 office renovations, emphasizing how renovating your office “the same year that you pass tuition increases […] is not a good look for the university.”
“But I’m not surprised,” says Barter. “That’s one of the reasons why they selected for her to be president of MUN, because she has a history of raising tuition but also a willingness as well.”
“I found out through my research that the university she was at before, the U of R, actually raised tuition there each year by a couple of percent,” Barter notes, referring to Timmons’ time as president at the University of Regina. Accordingly, “the president of the Student Union had made statements about how much the students were struggling and how much they were using the food banks there.”
Meanwhile, Barter remarks, “there were two staff members who [Timmons] overpaid by $300,000.”
“What I think is that Dr. Timmons, she lived in Labrador as a little kid, but then she moved away at a young age,” Barter explains. “So she thinks she’s the darling of the province who left when she was young, and now she’s come back home [and] essentially wants people at MUN and the province to roll over and bow down to her.”
Rees comments that putting “conditions in place to keep him away from Dr. Timmon’s, given that Matt had never interacted with her before, seemed to be a strange move [on the administration’s part].”
He followed by stating that “I don’t understand. If this had been 20 or 30 years ago and the president had announced doubling of tuition, then the president’s office would have been occupied, and police would have had to remove people from the site.” Rees claims that protests are a fundamental part of Memorial’s culture, whether for climate protests, indigenous issues, or student safety. “That’s why MUN has skywalks in place today […] the Student Union has shut down the parkway before demanding a skywalk be put in place after a number of students were killed crossing the road.”
“The student code of conduct at Memorial University contains a provision which sets out all the things that would seek punishment. [However] it does explicitly say that freedom of expression is not to be limited by this and peaceful protest is allowed,” Rees emphasizes.
“I’ve seen the CBC news coverage of Matt Barter where he protested the president in December with this ‘Stop Vianne’ sign and stood by her podium,” Rees continues. “And if that doesn’t meet the definition of peaceful protest, I don’t know what does.”