Skip to main content

Editorials The delicate balancing of oil, money and scholarship

Calgary, AB, Canada - August 31, 2006 - Dr. Elizabeth Cannon, has been appointed the new Dean of the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering. She was photographed in the building's main entrance on Thursday, August 31, 2006. (Photo by Chris Bolin/Globe and Mail)

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

Academic freedom is a precious thing. The ability to think independently and make judgments that can't be influenced by money or power is an essential public good, and needs to be protected in democratic societies that benefit from disinterested inquiry.

A CBC investigation into the University of Calgary's relationship with Enbridge Inc., the Alberta-based pipeline company, has highlighted the issue of how far private sponsors want to influence university research centres they are increasingly funding.

In March, 2012, the university established the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability. Enbridge promised $2.25-million to fund the centre, described at the time as "a neutral platform for education and research aimed at enhancing corporate practices that advance the care of people, the planet and the economy."

Story continues below advertisement

But the CBC examination of e-mails written by academic personnel shows their concern that the company's clout could compromise the centre's independence in areas of staffing, student awards and board memberships. More broadly, professors worried that the university was becoming too closely identified with the values of the oil industry.

A former director of the centre conveyed his view that "Enbridge sees the centre as a PR machine for themselves."

Enbridge denies it tried to influence the institution's operations. Its name has since been dropped from the centre's title, and the company has reduced its donation by $1-million.

The University of Calgary's track record in this area is hardly pristine. The university eagerly partnered in the failed Canada School of Energy and the Environment, a think-tank run by Conservative adviser Bruce Carson and widely seen as a front for the oil-sands lobby.

In a province where the energy industry is so dominant, academic leaders must continue to assert the principles of independence even as they court donors. That could be problematic at the University of Calgary, because the university's president, Elizabeth Cannon, is also a director of Enbridge's income fund, for which she was paid $130,500 last year. This kind of balancing act may not be unusual among Canadian university presidents, hired for their contacts and fundraising abilities. But the appearance of conflict still needs to be subjected to close scrutiny.

For now, Premier Rachel Notley has left the response to the CBC investigation in the hands of the university's board of governors. But speaking of independence, it is worth noting that the chairman of the board is a former vice-president at – small world! – Enbridge.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter