07/13/2012 04:58 EDT | Updated 09/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Carleton Donor Agreements Need To To Be Made Public: Faculty Association

OTTAWA - The president of Carleton University's faculty association says he'd like to see all future donor agreements between the university and patrons made public.

Jason Etele, an engineering professor, says problems with a donor agreement in Carleton's school of political management were avoidable and have "soured the morale" of teaching staff.

"But they're not surprised," the newly elected president of the Carleton University Academic Staff Association said Friday in an interview.

"Anecdotally, there has been a trend towards this type of behaviour, and it certainly has been creating some difficulties for Carleton and I think for universities elsewhere."

The university conceded this week it will need to redraft sections of a $15-million donor deal to fund its year-old graduate program, fronted by former Reform party founder Preston Manning, in order to comply with school policies.

The concession came after Carleton fought the release of the secret document for almost a year under Ontario's freedom of information laws.

The contract reveals the Riddell Family Charitable Foundation — created by Calgary businessman Clayton Riddell — effectively appointed three of five people on a steering committee that had sweeping powers over the graduate school's curriculum, budget and academic hiring.

Neither Carleton's faculty or its governing senate was fully aware of the agreement's details, and even Carleton's representatives on the steering committee itself are believed to have been in the dark until the donor agreement was released to The Canadian Press on June 29.

According to the Canadian Association of University Teachers, or CAUT, granting that kind of outside academic control seriously undermines a university's independence and academic integrity.

Similar battles have erupted at universities from Waterloo, Ont., to Calgary in the past year, and some see it as a sign of the times.

"There's been a growing feeling of university administration growth and a real kind of corporatization: 'What's the bottom line?'" said Etele.

"It is a public institution and the public has a right to know where the university is spending their money."

Ironically, multiple sources within Carleton confirm the university's contention that the problematic steering committee never actually exercised its powers over faculty hiring decisions, and that all hiring followed normal procedures.

Riddell has indicated in media interviews that he is not averse to having the offending sections of the donor deal rewritten.

And the Manning Centre for Building Democracy suggested in an email that the donor agreement's provisions can be altered.

"We are delighted with the program and are open to any changes that might further its success," said spokesman Olivier Ballou.

The Clayton H. Riddell School of Political Management begins its second academic year in September.

Controversies over donor agreements with universities are not new, but they've become more prominent in the past year.

Problems used to revolve around corporate naming rights for buildings and the fallout that resulted when some scandal tarnished the brand, noted David Robinson, director of research and advocacy at CAUT.

"But certainly what we're seeing now more and more is that companies that are giving money for programs, for research, are seen to be expecting more and more in return, and having more control over it," Robinson said in an interview.

CAUT has threatened to boycott Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo if they don't change the governance structure at their Balsillie School of International Affairs, while York University's Osgoode Hall cancelled a deal with the Centre for International Governance Innovation over similar concerns about academic independence.

Last fall, Postmedia News compelled the University of Calgary to release details of two charitable-status trust accounts used by climate change skeptics. The documents showed that the university received $175,000 from Talisman Energy for a PR and lobbying campaign against government programs to restrict fossil fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Not all philanthropists, however, get the welcome they might expect from universities.

When Chris McDermott, a Carleton alumnus now with a New York investment firm, gave the university $5,000 towards a scholarship fund for climate change research in January 2010, he received a mocking email in response.

Fen Hampson, Carleton's director of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, invited McDermott to visit him in Ottawa.

"I can take you skating on the frigid Rideau Canal, which did not melt this summer (global warming notwithstanding) and offer you some icewine afterwards, made from frozen Niagara grapes that were harvested in July," Hampson wrote.

He also suggested McDermott's donation "will be enhanced in the future as cap and trade comes into full play and investors like yourself play climate change roulette, much like the investors who wreaked such havoc in 2008-09."

Roseann O'Reilly Runte, Carleton's president, responded to McDermott's letter of complaint by saying Hampson "intended to be humorous," and she graciously accepted the donation.

McDermott is still fuming about the incident and contacted The Canadian Press after reading about the latest donor agreement imbroglio.

Zach Dayler, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, said donations are a fact of university life, but must be handled with care.

"It's a matter of making sure they respect what the institution's about — research, openness, the idea of pursuing knowledge without constraints," said Dayler.

"Absolutely, public and transparent is one of the most important things we can do — especially when these institutions are majority funded by public dollars."

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