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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2002

Donors Threaten Academic Freedom

As universities become increasingly dependent on private donations, some donors are taking the opportunity to try to shape university policy and intrude on academic freedom, says CAUT executive director James Turk.

In a speech delivered Oct. 30 at an Israel Bonds gala dinner in Montreal, CanWest Global Communications executive chairman Israel Asper said, "On university campuses, we must demand that the administrators of higher education re-take control of the teaching process, to ensure that hate is not taught, propaganda is not preached and that the revered term 'academic freedom' is never used as a license to libel, a podium for propaganda, and an advocacy of hate."

Asper added, "And we should withhold our financial support for those institutions that fail this obligation of educational integrity."

When a violent demonstration Sept. 9 at Concordia University blocked the Asper Foundation-sponsored speech of Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu, some suggested the Concordia board's unprecedented imposition of a moratorium on all public events related to the Middle East was prompted by a concern they must reassure donors.

Concordia administrators have denied that any external forces influenced the university's actions, but Marcel Dupuis, the university's director of corporate and foundation giving, was quoted in the Montreal Gazette as conceding that "donors and alumni are saying, 'If you don't get things in order, we're pulling the funding.' "

A year earlier, Charles Huntzinger, president and CEO of Imperial Parking, the largest carpark operator in Canada and the fourth largest in North America, and a recent immigrant to Canada from the United States, urged donors to withhold contributions to the University of British Columbia as long as Professor Sunera Thobani remained on staff.

Thobani sparked a media frenzy when, at a women's conference on violence against women, she strongly criticized American foreign policy in the aftermath of Sept. 11 .

"Fortunately, the UBC administration was quick to defend Thobani's academic freedom," Turk said. "UBC's academic vice-president and provost, Barry McBride, rejected calls for action against Thobani, pointing out that the cornerstone of a university is the ability to speak out on important issues."