‘Slanderous comments’ from PETL Minister Holder: Senate Briefs – Jan. 21

    (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    UPDATE: On Feb. 1, Jeffrey Carleton, associate vice-president communications at St. Thomas University, contacted The Aquinian to say that President Dawn Russell misspoke at the public Senate meeting on Jan. 21. Carleton said Russell misspoke when she said Premier Blaine Higgs was present at the meeting on Dec. 1. In fact, according to Carleton, he wasn’t. 

    The Aquinian has verified this information with Higgs’ communications officials and the change is reflected in the story.

    Carleton also said that when Russell refers to Higgs again in relation to Senator Kinsella, “it should have generally phrased as the Premier’s office.” In an email to The Aquinian, he said “This is understandable given that the overall issues with government are tied to funding issues that we raised with the Premier last year.”

    On Feb. 1, The Aquinian also reached out via email to the government’s communications officials about whether Higgs went to Senator Kinsella for a meeting. Through a phone call on Feb. 2, they said they would confirm whether that happened. The Aquinian has received no response yet as of 11 p.m., Feb. 8.

    Government relations

    St. Thomas University President Dawn Russell said she last met with the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Trevor Holder on Dec. 1 to discuss market needs and the responsibility that universities have when preparing students with skills for positions identified, many of which don’t need a university education.

    She said Holder criticized the quality of STU’s Bachelor of Social Work program because there are many New Brunswickers on social assistance and “social services employees working in income assistance don’t seem to have the skills necessary to get those clients off of social assistance.”

    New Brunswick’s assistant deputy minister agreed. But Russell said the province doesn’t hire social workers as social services employees.

    Russell said that after Holder criticized STU’s B.Sw program “really slanderously” in front of the other N.B. universities’ presidents, Holder turned to the new president of the Université de Moncton, Denis Prud’homme, saying “we’re going to need you Denis to establish a social work program [which] will deal with the issue,” to which Higgs and the ADM nodded to.

    But the Université de Moncton already has a social work program.

    Russell described Holder’s critics as a “shocking attack” on STU and the program.

    Russell sent a “firm” letter to Holder through e-mail concerning his words. She said within the hour that she had sent the letter, Holder was “desperately” trying to get at her. He called her home and tried to reinterpret and backtrack what he had said but she did not accept it and said that “a telephone call wouldn’t undo the harm that he had done in terms of the slanderous comments in front of the three other presidents.” She told him she’d be sharing the letter with the other university presidents.

    Russell said she’s yet to hear from Holder or Higgs but she has a meeting with the chair of STU’s board of governors and former Senator Noël Kinsella, because Higgs “decided to go to Kinsella about the letter, which I have to shake my head at.”

    The Aquinian reached out to Holder.

    “As the Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, I am committed to St. Thomas University and value the relationship we have with them as a government. In fact, I have always appreciated their contribution to the social well-being and economic development of our province. On that note, we are currently working on taking positive steps forward together as partners,” Holder said in an emailed statement to The Aquinian.

    “I am excited to continue building on this relationship in the weeks and months ahead.”

    Need for financial support

    St. Thomas University President Dawn Russell said an issue the presidents of the four New Brunswick universities — STU, University of New Brunswick, Université de Moncton and Mount Allison University — are discussing is the need for financial support from the provincial government due to COVID-19.

    Russell said the Nova Scotia government provided $25 million to its 10 universities for the loss of revenue because of the pandemic and to help keep up with costs like online development, faculty support and cleaning. Russell said all universities in N.B. are experiencing the same difficulties and she will send a letter to the government.

    Virtual graduation for Bachelor of Social Work students

    St. Thomas University President Dawn Russell announced that there will be a virtual graduation for the Bachelor of Social Work students on Jan. 25. Senate approved the list of names of the graduating students of the Bachelor of Social Work program.

    Application numbers

    St. Thomas University President Dawn Russell said as of Jan. 18, STU has received 507 domestic applications, with a drop of 72 applications from last year. Still, she said the recruitment team anticipates that gap will shrink once high school students have their first semester grades and that it’s too early to anticipate what enrolment numbers will be.

    New English proficiency test recognized

    A motion was approved for the Pearson Test of English to be recognized for admissions. Test scores ranging between 50 to 61 will be admitted with English as Second Language classes, while scores above 61 will be admitted on regular admission.

    New awards

    Six new awards for students were approved by Senate.

    New courses

    Senate approved 10 new courses, including two in education, one in fine arts, four in psychology and three in social work.

    Discussion over purchase of plagiarism license

    Senate discussed the purchase of Turnitin, a plagiarism-detector software, given that the trial run had come to an end. The licence, which would last for a year, costs around $7,000, said vice-president academic and research Kim Fenwick. Dean of Humanities André Loiselle said that there is some money to buy the software because STU received a “special pandemic budget” from the government.

    A point was raised that there has been more plagiarism with online learning. St. Thomas University Students’ Union President Sarah Kohut asked whether there was any data that showed whether plagiarism has increased this past semester.

    Some professors expressed concerns that the Turnitin software isn’t as accurate and that it isn’t good to be suspicious of students. Kohut said that the software could cause undue stress in students and mentioned that she used it in high school and it wasn’t accurate, given that it only worked for writing-based assignments rather than quizzes.

    Out of the 34 voting members, 22 voted against purchasing Turnitin, six voted in favour and six abstained.