Friday, March 23, 2012

UPDATE: Plan rejected York U. Professors question funding agreement with Basillie

By James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail, April 2, 2012
York University has abandoned contentious efforts to partner with a private think tank after its law faculty rejected the deal for the second time, maintaining it threatened York’s autonomy and academic freedom.By James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail, March 23, 2012

The proposed collaboration with the Centre for International Governance Innovation would have funded 10 research chairs and 20 graduate scholarships over a decade. Former Research in Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie, who founded CIGI, had pledged $30-million, to be matched by another $30-million in provincial funds.

York University has a plan to settle a dispute with professors dismayed over a partnership with a private think tank founded by business giant Jim Balsillie. But if it can’t get approval from the university’s senate, it will kill the initiative.

More than 270 professors have signed an open letter that argues an arrangement with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) gives the Waterloo, Ont.-based think tank “unprecedented” influence in academic matters. The letter demands that the senate, the university’s highest academic authority, be allowed to change the deal to maintain autonomy, and then approve it....
Many professors, including more than a dozen senators, have balked at the current terms of the agreement, fearing it gives two CIGI employees on a five-member Steering Committee undue sway over who fills the chairs, and what they plan to study. Despite assurances to the contrary from York administrators, the professors insist the deal would undermine fiercely guarded principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, and could erode York’s reputation for independent thought.

But Craig Heron, a professor and senator who has helped lead the charge to rejig the current deal, called Prof. Monahan's proposal “a step in the right direction.”
“[The University’s administrators] clearly were listening,” Prof. Heron said. “Now there’s a need to make sure that all the voices that have been raised up to this point have a voice in that [policy and planning] committee’s deliberations. We want to make sure that we’re going to be heard.”
Whether any new framework will be agreeable to CIGI also remains to be seen. Fred Kuntz, CIGI’s vice-president of public affairs, has said the think tank has little interest in being a funder without oversight of its investment.
“We’ve learned that when we show an interest in the area that we’re funding, and who’s doing the research, that we have more comfort that it’s actually related to what we do,” Mr. Kuntz said.
Can corporate money contaminate the university's independence and freedom of thought?
Of course it can, and does all the time!
There is a directly pipeline from the corporate trust accounts to the universities whose chairs and research they fund. And that pipeline could include the oversight of the selection of those research topics and those chairs selected.
And while the corporate funding, in this case, seems to be going to a new institute of international studies and law, a worthy venture in conception, the devil is always in the details.
And who is more worried about the invasion of those decisions that the faculty of a university, who seem to be listened to at York.
Here is a little background.
By James Bradshaw, Globe and Mail, March 19, 2012
The deal in question would see York and CIGI join forces to create 10 research chairs and 20 graduate scholarships in international law, funded with a $30-million donation from Mr. Balsillie, former co-CEO of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, and another $30-million in provincial funds. Both partners hail it as a chance to build a world-leading hub in the subject.

Yet discussions of a similar arrangement with the University of Ottawa had already failed, according to a spokesperson for that school. And the York partnership has since been plagued by stops and starts as faculty voiced concerns that it gives CIGI too much control in selecting the chairs and framing their research.
When university administrators and York’s Osgoode Hall Law School’s faculty council failed to agree on a document protecting the school’s autonomy, Prof. Monahan opened the chairs to all faculties, and later drafted a pair of new protocols with CIGI to assuage lingering fears.
At the heart of the matter is a provision allowing two CIGI employees on the partnership’s steering committee to review the shortlist of candidates for the chairs. The latest protocol promises the committee would appoint an arm’s-length panel of “scholars and experts” to settle any dispute about who should be interviewed, but a letter from 14 senators counters that allowing CIGI a seat at the table to shape hiring decisions is still “a shocking departure from our established practices.”
Prof. Monahan got unanimous support for the deal, with its proliferating protections, from the senate’s academic policy, planning and research committee. But even that failed to calm anxious professors, who say it remains a threat to York’s integrity. The Canadian Association of University Teachers has been the most vocal critic, warning it may formally censure York.
“I’ve never seen a donor agreement as egregious as what York agreed to with CIGI,” said Jim Turk, the association’s executive director.
Protecting the university from the control of the money that seeks to fund, and to influence the administation of that funding is both honourable and necessary especially now.
Money has limitless power, as we have seen with the "buying" of the Republican candidacy for president of the United States, apparently with impunity, by Mr. Romney.
Universities would do well to demand, from the provinces, an independent panel of trustees, to assure both anonymity and independence from corporate donors seeking to gain a foothold into the "culture" including the political philosophy of those institutions to which they give or intend to give their excess cash. In our picture of such a panel, they would be constituted by independent ethicists, and empowered to set and to monitor and to inforce guidelines for donors to universities that would preserve both the independence of the university and the anonymity of the donors.

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