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Carleton's About Face to Preston Manning: We Don't Want Tory-Dictated Money

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A month ago, Ottawa's Carleton University agreed to accept $15 million from a private citizen for a new graduate program. The money came from the personal fortune of an Albertan philanthropist, Clayton H. Riddell, while the idea originated from one of Canada's elder statesman -- former federal Reform party leader, Preston Manning.

The new school is to be named the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management. Its mission is to provide, according to the university, a "practical cross-partisan training for aspiring political staffers." When the donation was announced, it was widely celebrated within the Carleton University community. To date, the offer is the largest one time donation in the school's history.

Carleton's chancellor, Herb Gray, and chair of the Board of Governors, Jacques Shore, both endorsed the idea and became enthusiastic supporters. Both men are prominent Liberals, Herb having served for close to 40 years as a Liberal MP and Deputy Prime Minister while Shore is one of the Liberals' top fundraiser and member of its exclusive Laurier Club. Membership to the selective group is earned by donating and committing to donate at least $1,200 a year to the party. Former NDP national director Robin Sears is also a vocal supporter and adviser to the new school.

The agreement between Carleton and Riddell calls for the Riddell Foundation to appoint three of five people on the school's steering committee. The committee would also have influence over the graduate program's budget, academic hiring, executive director and curriculum.

The committee was to include Manning as chair, his former top aide as well as another well- known conservative activist. Two more appointees were to come from the university.

Late last week, the university released a statement -- one which suddenly rejects the deal. Apparently, the deal "does not reflect the university's academic policies and will be reworked." Carleton plans to "rework the provisions in collaboration with the donor," the statement added.

This is very unfortunate. It reminds me of a little known history within Carleton University. In 1964, then-Ottawa mayor, Charlotte Whitton, refused a $450,000 donation to Ottawa's Civic Hospital from a prominent Jewish businessman, Bertram Loeb. Although Whitton claimed that by accepting the donation would force taxpayers to face liability for it, some suggested the reason had been that she didn't want the name of a Jewish family on an Ottawa hospital building.

Carleton University accepted the money without discrimination and named one of the most prominent buildings in his honor -- the Loeb Building. This decision was both forward and smart then as it is now.

The Said Business School at Oxford University is another example. It also had the same type of controversy in 1996. The then-brand new school had accepted £23 million from a Syrian/Saudi Arabian businessman and had named the school in honor.

Many protested and some faculty members resigned in protest. The administration took a principled stand and never wavered on their original decision.

Today, the school is one of the leading business schools in the world. Said has further established a Strategic Development Fund for the School with £25 million and committed another £15 million to start construction on a new building that will house the Saïd Business School Center for Executive Education.

When the Carleton University detail was made public, James Turk, executive director of the teachers' association, said he fears some cash-strapped Canadian universities have given up their academic independence to the highest bidder. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has called provisions in the deal "unprecedented and unacceptable," while others have expressed fears that the donation may politically compromise the school's curriculum.

The reality is that this unfounded fear is jeopardizing what is a noble idea for many Canadians who want to be educated with the hope of serving Canada. Preston Manning deserves our applause, not our ridicule or disdain, for his initiative. He is a passionate Canadian.

Whether one is a political supporter of his or not.