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Reclaiming U of T campaign aims at private donor influence on campus

by the newspaperMartín Waldman
January 27th, 2011

This past Saturday, Sidney Smith Hall hosted Great Minds for Whose Future?, an anti-corporitazation teach-in that was the latest event in a growing overall discussion about corporate influence at U of T. A panel of speakers discussed the effects of corporatization and how to combat its ongoing influence, and while much discussion with respect to U of T was centred around the role of Peter Munk and Barrick Gold, panelists also included an organizer in similar anti-corporatization campaigns at the University of California at Berkeley, as well as a speaker from the the Extractive Industries Research Group at York University.

The ongoing trend of universities seeking out private donations is certainly not a new phenomenon in Canada or abroad, but according to Zexi Wang, UTSU VP External, U of T is beginning to emerge as an especially bad example.

“The U of T administration seems particularly unreserved about partnering with corporations and the university itself increasingly operates like a corporation,” Wang explains. “Students, for instance, are referred to as Business Income Units (B.I.U.s) in Governing Council documents. Fourteen of the 50 seats on Governing Council...are reserved for government appointees, most of whom are business leaders.”

Peter Munk's donation and influence at U of T has become the key target of anti-corporatization on campus. Sakura Saunders, Editor of ProtestBarrick.net and member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network, as well as an organizer of Saturday's event, notes that Munk's company, Barrick Gold, is accused of human rights abuses, environmental violations, and corrupt practices at many of their operations around the globe. Saunders also outlined the major problems with Peter Munk's agreement with U of T, and why it represents a “worst case scenario” for corporate control. “Munk’s influence in the School [of Global Affairs] is especially troubling as the school’s area of study, International Relations and Global Policy, are areas in which Munk has vested business interests.”

In the face of inadequate funding from the provincial government, university administrations are often left in a difficult situation, faced with few options to avoid budget shortfalls. At press time the Office of the Provost had not responded for comment, but it is important to note the essential role that private donations can play from the perspective of a university administration.

However, Angela Regnier, UTSU Executive Director, points out that these donations can open the door for interference in academic freedom, something that is already happening at U of T. “Research contracts frequently include non-disclosure agreements which gag scientists from being able to publish results which might be unfavorable to the sponsor - such as the case of Dr. Nancy Olivieri.” According to Regnier, “academic integrity has long been compromised because private companies have research goals and values that are simply incongruent with the purpose of the university - to foster critical inquiry, support human rights, and produce knowledge for the common good.”

Organizers of Saturday's teach-in, such as Zexi Wang and Sakura Saunders, were encouraged by the turnout over the weekend, as well as the mix of students, staff and faculty at the event. Asked if anti-corporatization initiatives are truly gaining momentum at U of T, Saunders seems optimistic. “With events such as the General Assembly, and with more events discussing the corporatization of U of T, I feel like awareness will spread... [T]he events in this last week were a strong beginning to a campaign that aims to scrap the Munk contract as it is currently written, and spread awareness about the impacts of such agreements.”

 

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