Monday, April 02, 2012

Oh University of Alberta!

Ugh. The Chief First President of my second alma mater is at it again with her usual warmth, charm, and sophistication. This time she's talking to the university student newspaper's Scott Fenwick about criticism voiced the institution's water initiative voiced by Maude Barlow.

A bit of background before I get into it. The University of Alberta's water initiative is apparently about the following:

1. We need an understanding of social, cultural, and historic frameworks if we are going to develop effective scientific, technological and political approaches to balancing the water needs associated with human health, environmental sustainability, and food and energy production.

2. Tomorrow's water challenges require a new generation of thinkers, decision makers, scientists, and policy makers who are trained in a holistic understanding of water supply, demand, and quality requirements for people, their environment, and their industries.
It all sounds pretty legitimate, noble even, and perhaps would have gone unremarked upon if the Furious Leader hadn't decided to step into her tax-payer gilded pulpit and preach mighty wisdom unto the masses, and thus reveal her hand.

Much like the way she dealt with U of A sociology professor Amy Kaler a few weeks ago by attacking her credibility as a scholar when she had temerity to challenge the administration's wishes regarding an honourary degree, she goes after Maude Barlow. My favourite bit is where Fenwick, following up claims that the school's water advisory group has a distinctly neoliberal bias, asks Samarasekera about Barlow's comments to that effect. Emphasis mine.

SF: What is your response to Maude Barlow’s allegations that the board is ideologically slanted?
IS: Maude Barlow — she has such a one-sided view of the world. It’s tragic. First of all, she doesn’t know the people on the board. She has obtained partial information on which she’s commenting. The board is not finalized. We have people on both sides of the ideological debate. She is simply wrong.
We have Sunita Narain on the board. She has talked extensively about some of the challenges around water equity, about lack of clean water access to people in India ... Narain has been named one of the top 100 public intellectuals by the U.S. Foreign Policy magazine. Maude Barlow is not in her league.
If Sunita Narain is on our advisory board, giving us the debate from the other side, then we have a balance. So Maude Barlow should learn not to criticize without her facts. And I think she and her organization operate on ideology, not on a science-based environment. And Sunita Narain who runs the Centre for Science and Environment, she’s an environmentalist who does not depend on ideology but she has a greater influence because she bases her whole comments on fact.

There are 35 names on the list for the advisory group. The only member the president is willing to name is the only one she suggests is in agreement with Barlow, yet Samarasekera still tries to twist that third party into a bludgeon against Barlow. [A list in Forbes magazine? Really? That's your evidence?]  And then, maybe realising she's quickly losing runway, deploys her spoilers and thrust reversers:

Final point I wanted to make is that Maude Barlow — because I respect her point of view, that’s why I introduced her — she has done some good things. She has raised awareness. She has been an advocate. There are lots of good things that Muade Barlow has done and I respect her for those good things that she has done. That is why I introduced her — that is an indication of the fact that I support both points of view, and I think that’s what it should say. I’m not here to debate individuals.
No, dear Indira my dear, I suggest you introduced her because she is a public figure of some serious league (despite your words) and you wanted your moment with her in front of the cameras.

The Council of Canadians is clearly unimpressed with the U of A president. I also wonder if advisory committee candidates of certain persuasions might be reconsidering their participation in some Canadian university's water scheme if they're simply globs of mud for the Leader to sling at critics in her fits of pique. 

I bet you could put a dollar figure on how much money the university has not received from donors and investors because of the current president's personality issues.

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