A $2-million bequest to the University of Western Ontario has been withdrawn and other alumni are threatening to cut their ties with the school, outraged by the university's decision to award an honorary degree next month to a controversial abortion doctor.
Henry Morgentaler, an abortion provider who runs clinics in several provinces, is one of the 10 people selected by the university's senate committee for the honorary awards. He will receive a doctor of law degree on June 16.
University officials say that several donors have retracted their pledges in protest against the school's decision. The most significant has been a $2-million bequest from an unnamed retired business executive, said Don McDougall, chair of the university's board of governors.
"I don't think there's any doubt that with literally thousands of alumni upset that it has some effect," Mr. McDougall said yesterday.
The university, however, is not budging from its decision.
"[The senate committee]considered the many ramifications of this honorary degree, decided that Dr. Morgentaler merited it and made the decision that it should be awarded," president Paul Davenport said.
The senate committee's decision to award Dr. Morgentaler has been met with protests by anti-abortion activists across the country.
And this week, Mr. McDougall sent a letter to the university community saying that he believes the decision "will depreciate the honour, adversely affect fund raising . . . [and]do irreparable harm to the reputation of the university."
Mr. McDougall said in an interview yesterday that even though the board of governors doesn't play a role in the decision of awarding honorary doctorates, he felt compelled to take a public stand on the issue. "From Day 1 I felt that it was a mistake from the reputation of the university point of view," he said.
When asked about the board's chair being critical of the university's decision, Dr. Davenport said people have the right to speak their minds on campus.
Dr. Davenport said he doesn't believe there will be any adverse long-term effect on fundraising. He said that an alumnus sent a cheque for $10,000 this week in support of the university's decision to give Dr. Morgentaler an honorary degree.
"I've been president here for 11 years. Every time there is a controversy, whether it's over building a new residence or a demonstration in the students centre, I get statements from people who say, 'Well, I'm not giving this' or 'I'm not giving that,' " Mr. Davenport said.
The university, he said, just completed a $327-million fundraising campaign, and "I'm confident that we will continue to raise money from people who believe in us."
Alumni expressed mixed feelings yesterday on the university's decision to give Dr. Morgentaler an honorary degree.
Brian Chapman, who graduated from the university in 1987 with an undergraduate degree in business, said he will no longer donate to the university. Mr. Chapman, who is self-employed, said he believes Dr. Morgentaler's work is morally wrong.
"I would encourage everyone who is an alumnus to stop giving money. I was shocked that they would do something like this," he said.
Another alumnus, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the decision by the university will not affect his million-dollar donation or any future pledges to the institution. "However, I do believe that it was a mistake for them to have granted him the honorary degree simply because the granting of the degree implies that the university supports what he stands for," the donor said.
Dr. Morgentaler was not available for an interview yesterday.
Mr. Davenport said that the university has contacted more than 300 students scheduled for Dr. Morgentaler's convocation and only one has expressed a desire to attend a different ceremony. That student, he said, will attend another convocation that same day.