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Clayton Riddell pauses for a photograph in his Calgary office Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. (Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail)
Clayton Riddell pauses for a photograph in his Calgary office Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007. (Jeff McIntosh for The Globe and Mail)

Carleton University rewrites controversial $15-million donor deal Add to ...

Carleton University has rewritten a controversial donor agreement for its school of political management to make clear that a wealthy patron does not have the final say on faculty hiring and curriculum.

The new donor agreement comes after Carleton stonewalled for almost a year to hide the details of its $15-million deal with Calgary businessman Clayton Riddell.

When the donor agreement finally became public earlier this summer, Carleton faculty and the Canadian Association of University Teachers cried foul, calling it a major infringement on academic freedom.

Carleton president Roseann O’Reilly Runte released a rewritten clause in the donor deal Tuesday as she lauded the first anniversary of the “cross-partisan” master’s degree program, designed to train political staff for government-related work.

“In the context of the annual review, Carleton, along with Mr. Riddell, also looked at provisions in the donor agreement that had caused some confusion – particularly as these pertain to the steering committee,” Ms. Runte said in a release.

She said the newly rewritten clause “clarifies the role as that of strategic adviser. That is indeed the role that the committee has played from the outset.”

The five-person committee – dominated by the patron’s appointees – no longer has the power to “approve” key hiring and curriculum decisions, but is asked to provide “timely and strategic advice.”

Preston Manning, the former Reform Party founder, chairs the committee, while his former chief of staff Cliff Fryers sits on it along with Chris Froggatt – the former chief of staff to Conservative cabinet minister John Baird – and two university representatives.

The new agreement also explicitly requires that the committee operate in accordance with the university’s policies, procedures and practices.

Whether the changes will satisfy the Carleton faculty association and the wider academic community remains to be seen.

A letter earlier this month to the university’s board of governors from the Carleton University Academic Staff Association sharply criticized Carleton’s administration.

“In authoring a deal that allows for the possibility that a majority of a program steering committee be from non-academic institutions, this administration has publicly demonstrated its failure to understand what a university should represent,” said the letter, signed by engineering professor Jason Etele, who currently heads the teachers’ association, and 12 of his elected office holders.

The letter also took Carleton’s leadership to task for a separate deal with CultureWorks, a private firm that teaches English as a second language.

“Many of the faculty members in our university community are appalled and outraged by this turn of events and worry about the damage to our reputation, our success at competing for students and financial resources, and the risk of censure,” said the letter.

It states that peer review ensures universities have academic freedom, honest intellectual exchanges and excellence in teaching and research.

“Our ability to maintain these core values within Canada’s excellent public university system is compromised when the administration creates agreements where there is a real, or apparent, corporate or partisan approach,” said the letter.

A spokeswoman for the university said Tuesday that “it is normal for advisory boards and steering committees to include non-academics.”

Carleton’s manager of public affairs, Beth Gorham, added that Ms. Runte met with Prof. Etele and the teachers’ union executive to discuss the clarifications. Prof. Etele could not be reached immediately for comment.

Private donor agreements at publicly funded universities have been in the news repeatedly in recent years over issues of academic freedom and corporate control.

The Washington-based Center for American Progress published a study in October 2010 that exposed numerous problematic deals involving American universities and major energy companies.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers is currently examining research deals between Canadian universities and third parties. CAUT says it has collected between 15 and 18 such agreements and expects to release its findings this fall.

The Clayton H. Riddell School of Political Management was launched to much publicity in October 2010, with the stated aim of providing practical, “cross-partisan” training for aspiring political staffers.

Mr. Manning, who leads the Manning Centre for Building Democracy – which is devoted to promoting conservative causes – was cited as a driving force behind the school’s creation, while the university trumpeted Riddell’s $15-million donation as “the largest single donation in Carleton’s history.”

The agreement that was eventually released in late June after a prolonged access to information battle revealed that $10-million of Mr. Riddell’s donation was contingent on his being satisfied with the program after five years of operation.

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