An investigation into the relationship between the University of Calgary (U of C) and oil and gas pipeline giant Enbridge has concluded that the school’s president, Elizabeth Cannon, was in a conflict-of interest due to a co-existing and “highly-remunerated” role as an Enbridge board member.
The report, prepared by a committee appointed by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), also notes a “deeply worrying culture of silencing and reprisal” at the University, and finds that the actions of President Elizabeth Cannon and other senior administrators both damaged the U of C’s academic reputation, and compromised the academic freedom of faculty member Joe Arvai.
The investigation reviewed events occurring while and after the U of C secured sponsorship from Enbridge to establish the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability (ECCS) at the university’s Haskayne School of Business. Dr. Arvai was named director of the institute, then left the position a week after he announced opposition on scientific grounds to the Northern Gateway pipeline.
“Academic staff have the right to engage in robust debate without fear of intimidation or reprisal,” says CAUT Executive Director David Robinson. “The U of C not only failed to protect and promote academic freedom in this case, but succumbed to pressure by Enbridge to compromise the autonomy of the work being conducted within the ECCS.”
The report found that “the accumulation of the President’s dual role and appearance of a conflict of interest, her failure to recuse herself publicly, and the Board’s evident approval or acquiescence in this conflict and non-recusal amount to a significant failure of leadership that very likely has harmed the U of C’s reputation for academic independence and objectivity.”
According to the authors, Enbridge was allowed to name the Centre, design its public launch and determine academic priorities, all the while skewing the sponsorship in its own favour to “subordinate the university’s responsibilities as an academic body to the priorities of prospective donors in the oil and gas industry.”
“The Enbridge sponsorship reveals how easily a university can make itself dependent on corporate money” that creates “inherent pressures to compromise academic objectivity where it came into conflict with donor priorities,” the authors state.
The eight recommendations in the report include a review of the governance structure and processes at the U of C in order to make them more transparent and clearly linked to the principles of academic freedom and collegial governance. As well, the report suggests that all senior university officials be barred from paid service on outside corporate boards; that relationships with external entities be reviewed and made to comply with CAUT recommendations on university-corporate collaborations; and that processes of collegial governance and shared decision-making involving the U of C leadership and faculty, students and staff should be reviewed and strengthened along with the overall accountability of senior administrators.