Yet another Canadian university is in an uproar over a controversial figure’s imminent presence on campus. Only this time it’s not coming from the left.
Instead, it’s the University of Alberta’s deans of business and engineering, of all people, denouncing the school’s decision to give an honorary doctorate of science to the environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki.
To read their public letters protesting the decision, you might think the university had invited Robert Mugabe to give its convocation address.
The dean of business, Joseph Doucet, said he understood that many alumni and supporters were feeling not just “disappointed” but “betrayed.”
Dean of Engineering Fraser Forbes called the controversy “the worst crisis… we’ve faced in more than three decades.”
“I am not surprised by the level of outrage being expressed across the entire breadth of our engineering community,” he went on. “Surely such is to be expected when one’s fundamental values are so directly questioned!”
Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, shall we? Yes, Mr. Suzuki can be strident. He wants the oil sands to be “shut down.” His views on economics are crude. We do not agree with his extreme approach to curbing climate change.
But he is also an impressive and accomplished figure. Let’s not forget, amid our current frustrations about getting pipelines built, that environmentalism is a critical movement. Or that Mr. Suzuki became one of its most forceful evangelists after being interned as a child during the Second World War for his Japanese heritage.
You don’t have to share his views to believe the effort to block his award is misplaced. Two prominent educators – along with Alberta opposition leader Jason Kenney – are trying to declare him beyond the pale, so toxic and upsetting that he should be shunned. That’s ridiculous.
Mr. Forbes makes a telling claim when he says the decision to honour Mr. Suzuki has “directly questioned” the “fundamental values” of the engineering community.
Even if he were right, isn’t questioning fundamental values exactly what universities are supposed to be about?