The Carleton University Academic Staff Association (CUASA) is calling on university administrators to halt a harmful pattern of closed negotiations between the school and private donors and corporations.
In a strongly-worded letter to Carleton’s board of governors on Aug. 20, CUASA charged that lack of transparency and disregard for academic freedom are once again at play in a recently struck contract with CultureWorks, a private, for-profit education company.
CUASA president Jason Etele said terms of the agreement remain confidential between Carleton and CultureWorks, with faculty and students at the university in the dark as to full implications of the deal.
The secretive approach has outraged many faculty, who cite concerns over quality oversight of programs.
“When education and training are connected with the ability for a company to profit, the incentive to compromise academic integrity is large,” the letter concludes.
According to its website, “Culture Works is an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) school that prepares international students to succeed in Canadian universities and colleges. Located on campus, our partner schools offer conditional acceptance to CultureWorks students.”
“Presumably this (conditional acceptance) may change how people are admitted to Carleton,” said Etele. “The university agreed to this without telling anyone.”
The CultureWorks contract follows on the heels of another controversial deal in 2010 that funnelled a $15-million donation to the university from oil magnate Clayton Riddell to create a new political management program.
Carleton fought disclosure of that donor agreement for a year before finally releasing an unredacted version in June. Section 14 of the agreement revealed that a five-person steering committee with sweeping controls over the program’s curriculum development, budget and even academic hiring was dominated by the donor’s appointees.
Carleton’s administration ultimately conceded the agreement “did not fully reflect Carleton’s policies and procedures” on budget management and hiring, but only after voluble and public criticism of the contract terms’ undermining of academic integrity.
The agreement has since been revised to “clarify” the role of the steering committee, which no longer has power to approve hiring or curriculum decision, but is asked only to provide “timely and strategic advice.”
Carleton University is not alone in the debate over appropriate parameters around private funding.
The administrations at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo face censure by CAUT in November if they do not modify the governance structure of their Balsillie School of International Affairs in order to protect the universities’ academic independence.
CAUT Council put forward the censure notice at its general meeting earlier this year after carefully considering the partnership agreement signed by the two universities, Jim Balsillie and his private think tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation.