OTTAWA - Changes to "clarify" a controversial, $15-million donor agreement at Carleton University are more cosmetic than substantive and miss the main point — protecting academic independence, the Canadian Association of University Teachers said Wednesday.
Carleton's administration released a newly rewritten agreement with wealthy Calgary businessman Clay Riddell this week to clear up what it called confusion about the steering committee for the fledgling graduate program in political management.
"A revised clause of the agreement clarifies the role as that of strategic adviser," university president Roseann O'Reilly Runte said Tuesday.
But the academic freedom and tenure committee of CAUT, the national university teachers' association, spent more than an hour poring over the single-page clause and said the problematic deal "in some ways has been made worse."
"I must say we're very unhappy," Jim Turk, CAUT's executive director, said in an interview. "We don't feel that they've resolved the problem at all."
Carleton's fledgling school of political management, the brainchild of Reform party founder Preston Manning and the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, has been under scrutiny since late June when the university grudgingly released the 2010 donor deal after a year of stonewalling an access request by The Canadian Press.
The program is designed as a "cross-partisan" graduate school to train political staffers and operatives for government-related jobs.
The secret donor agreement revealed that a five-member steering committee — headed by Manning along with two Riddell appointees and two university representatives — had approval powers over academic hiring, curriculum, the program budget, and the awarding of scholarships.
The new clause says the committee should provide "timely and strategic advice" on a longer list that includes "program direction, curriculum development, academic and administrative staffing, organization and promotion, and secure additional funding, to ensure the (program's) long-term success."
It also states that the steering committee "will operate in accordance with all (Carleton) policies, procedures and practices."
Turk says the changes are "more cosmetic than substantive."
The steering committee, dominated by the donor's people, "is going to play an intimate role in the actual operation of an academic program at Carleton University," said Turk.
"And there is no place for a donor's organization involved (in academic decisions)."
Private donor agreements at publicly funded universities have been in the news repeatedly in recent years over issues of academic freedom and corporate control.
Both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo have come under fire from CAUT for the governance structure of their Balsillie School of International Affairs.
And last year, Postmedia News forced the University of Calgary to reveal how funding for two charitable-status trust accounts had been used by climate change skeptics.
The Carleton University Academic Staff Association declined to comment on the newly revised donor agreement Wednesday, saying it only saw the revised clause on Tuesday when it was revealed to the media.
But in a sternly worded letter to the school's board of governors on Aug. 20, the Carleton teachers said "the recent actions of the administration have done more damage to Carleton University than any other issue or challenge we have faced in the past decade."
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