A multi-million dollar deal York University signed recently with Jim Balsillie’s Centre for International Governance Innovation for a new program in international law gives the Waterloo-based think tank say over areas in which the program’s chairs will work, their research plans & who can be hired. [theonlysilentbob/wikimedia]
Concerned about universities abandoning academic integrity, CAUT’s academic freedom and tenure committee has recommended that censure of the administrations of York, Wilfrid Laurier and Waterloo universities be initiated at the April CAUT Council meeting.
“The situation at York University is the most serious,” said Len Findlay, who chairs the committee. “At issue is an agreement
signed by the university which gave a donor’s private think tank unprecedented powers in relation to strictly academic matters.”
The agreement reached in August 2011 between York and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), the think tank run by former co-CEO of Research in Motion Jim Balsillie, was to create a program in international law through York’s Osgoode Hall Law School with 10 new chairs financed by money from the Ontario government, the university and Balsillie through CIGI.
The agreement foresaw a program to be administered by a steering committee with two voting members from the university and two from CIGI. The committee was to develop chair research areas, and establish financial terms and research expectations for each of the chairs, including their research plans, and to determine the short list of candidates from which the university would be allowed to hire.
“Not only is CIGI to be given a voice in making all these academic decisions, it is given veto power on each,” said Findlay. “This is a fundamental violation of academic integrity by the university administration, perhaps the most serious we have seen at any university in Canada.”
A donor’s think tank or foundation should have no voice in a university’s decision making in such areas, according to Findlay.
Osgoode Law School faculty appear to have agreed. They tried for months to get the offensive aspects removed from the agreement, to no avail. In February the York administration abandoned plans to offer the program through the law faculty and relocated it to other faculties.
Facing growing public pressure, York and CIGI adopted a series of protocols, the last of which did remove CIGI’s ability to veto who could be on the shortlist of candidates to be interviewed. Under the latest protocol, if the CIGI members of the steering committee disagree with the university representatives, the issue will be turned over to a group of outside independent scholars who have final authority over whom the university can consider. CIGI’s veto power remains over determination of research areas for each chair and over the setting of research expectations and research plans for each.
The concerns at Wilfrid Laurier and Waterloo involve the two universities’ agreement to a governance structure for their joint Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA). Funded by a $33 million donation from Balsillie, the school offers Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier graduate programs in international governance and policy.
The structure calls for the school to be governed by a board on which the two universities and CIGI each have two representatives. The board has the authority to decide which programs shall be designated BSIA academic programs, choose the senior academic who will be director of the school, have final budgetary and operational authority for the school, and decide the school’s strategic research direction. Any decision of the board requires the support of at least one of the two CIGI members to pass.
“All of these should be the exclusive domain of the universities,” said Findlay. “We are setting a very dangerous precedent when we allow private donor organizations to have a role, much less a veto, in academic matters.”
CAUT executive director James Turk says he hopes the academic freedom and tenure committee’s concerns will lead the universities to modify their agreements to protect academic integrity.