The mathematics doctorate was visiting from Vancouver and had originally planned on rejecting his diploma.
Speaking with The Varsity en route to his convocation ceremony, Zoghi explained that he was upset with what he refers to as an increasing corporatization of the University of Toronto.
His main issue of concern was the new Munk School of Global Affairs, launched after a $35 million donation from Peter Munk and his wife. Munk is Chairman of Barrick Gold, a mining company registered in Canada.
It was a sentence in the April press release, detailing the donation that upset Zoghi: “The Munk School positions U of T as a leading player in a broad range of subjects from water to cyber security.”
Zoghi alleges Barrick Gold is “known for water disputes around its gold mines” and mentioned an ongoing lawsuit between the company and the authors of Noir Canada, a book examining mining-related corruption in Africa.
“[Munk] comes over and donates a whole bunch of money to the university to set up an institute whose mandate is to study things that are relevant to that corporation,” he alleged. “You really don't have to be a genius to figure out there's something kind of not quite kosher about this.”
Zoghi said he feels that the company is “crushing academic freedom” and “making it difficult for academics to question the actions of the company involved," mentioning a similar donation from Goldcorp to Simon Fraser University.
“'We just want this money.' That seems to be the attitude universities in Canada seem to be adopting. We don’t necessarily blame the universities themselves. We know universities are in a tough spot right now," said Zoghi.
“Let's say you don't care about people dying and getting poisoned in Tanzania. Should you not care about your own academic freedom either? Is that also up for sale?”
Zoghi intended to hand his diploma to U of T President David Naylor, but he was not in attendance. Instead, the ceremony included a handshake from the university's chancellor and graduate dean; students then received their degree and posed for a photo outside the chambers before reentering. alt text
Because graduates approached the stage in alphabetical order, Zoghi was the last in the Doctor of Philosophy section. While the whole section was being applauded, Zoghi shook hands and stood still on the stage for a few seconds, facing the crowd and shaking his head.
He then removed his graduation gown and walked offstage in a red t-shirt among laughter and hushed confusion from the audience. The shirt, with one-inch yellow print, read “U of T Inc” on the front and “Univ for SALE” on the back. Audience members were heard asking each other what happened and what the shirt read.
Zoghi then declined the envelope containing his degree and was photographed for the graduation composite.
“The photo was taken without the gown, but I don't know if my T-shirt appeared in the photo,” said Zoghi.
The graduate also took issue with conditions on Munk's donation.
The donor agreement, anonymously obtained by The Varsity, reveals that Munk's donation comes in yearly increments. Although the agreement clearly states that academic freedom is to be unhealed, the university must report to Munk every year.
A recently published book co-written by Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig states that Munk's $66 million donation will only be $19 million or less after tax deductions.
Zoghi said he objects to the university “accepting donations that come with so much strings attached that it really resembles more a purchase than a donation. It appears to be that Mr. Munk is literally buying a piece of the university.”
Zoghi is adamant that he will only take back his degree if university administration starts consulting with the wider community.
“I don't want to be associated with a university whose integrity is compromised this much,” he said. “I will make every effort not to use this degree for a job.”