Unriddling University Contracts with Private Donors

It took them over a year, but the Canadian Press has managed to secure the release of a contract struck between Carleton University and private donor Clayton Riddell, CEO of the Calgary-based oil company Paramount Resources, and, according to Forbes, one of the richest men in the world. Riddell donated $15 million to Carleton for a political management program there. As the Globe and Mail reports, in light of the terms of the agreement, the Council of Ontario Universities is taking steps to put protections in place to guard its public universities from the encroachment on faculty autonomy that is always a risk when academic institutions take money from private donors.

As James Bradshaw’s article notes, Carleton’s agreement with Riddell is perceived as a problem because it gives the members of the steering committee, two of whom are “appointed by Mr. Riddell’s charitable foundation,” the authority to participate in the hiring of faculty. So much for faculty autonomy! A former provost of the University of Alberta has declared in his “farewell” column for University Affairs that faculty autonomy is one of the “maddening” aspects of university culture, but it is in fact, as one colleague notes, an essential aspect. If one Ontario university could make such an obvious mistake in the terms it has struck with a private donor, what other risks are Canada’s universities running in the agreements that they are striking?

The first step in such a situation is, of course, to recognize the dangers, and meet them head-on — not after the terms of such agreements are, under pressure, made public.

This week’s news in fact begs the question: shouldn’t all agreements between private donors and public universities be made public as a matter of course? Public universities are working for the public good, and where such agreements are struck, every possible step should be taken to assure the public that the private money the university is accepting will in no way interfere with the autonomy of the public university or its public work. There’s a reason why Bradshaw’s column appears under the subject heading “Academic Integrity.” 

The matter merited a Globe and Mail editorial on Friday, for there are larger issues at stake. The editorial notes that the steering committee for the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management at Carleton University is currently chaired by Preston Manning, “founder of the Reform party and president of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, whose self-described mission is ‘to identify, develop and support political entrepreneurs who can advance … a free and democratic Canada guided by conservative principles.’ ” 

Carleton University has announced that it will be amending the terms of its agreement with Mr. Riddell. 

According to the National Post, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is busy gathering university contracts with private donors and plans to release a report on them in the Fall. 

The matter is certainly a pertinent one for the University of Alberta, whose new chair of the Board of Governors Doug Goss has announced that he will be seeking $1 billion in private money. The earlier Arts Squared piece on that announcement, as covered by the Edmonton Journal’s Sheila Pratt in June, is here.

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