Monday, October 18, 2010

University of Winnipeg hypocrisy (update: video of the speech)

Erin Larson: Go you good thing!
A valedictory address that criticized the University of Winnipeg for bestowing an honorary degree on Manitoba Conservative MP Vic Toews has caused ripples in the community...

"I'm extremely honoured to be selected as the valedictorian [but] I have to admit I'm not proud to share the stage with everybody that is on it today," Larson said, as Toews, the federal public safety minister, sat nearby looking uncomfortable.
After the ceremony, U of W president Lloyd Axworthy said he was disappointed the valedictory address was used to make a political statement.
"The young woman who was the valedictorian wanted to use it as a platform for some political views — that's her right to use it in that way — but it put a little bit of a damper on the proceedings at the end, which is too bad," he said.
I hold a degree from the University of Winnipeg and am somewhat familiar with Lloyd Axworthy's role in that institution. He has done many good things for the University, taking significant steps to make the school a centre of excellence for the study of peace, democracy and human rights. He also has taken a particular interest in making the the university accessible to immigrant, refugee and Aboriginal communities in the city, being a particularly keen champion of Sudan's Lost Boys and Girls.
However, Axworthy is a star and holds considerable clout and influence. There is no one I'm aware of around the UW who can match his record and reputation. I was left with the distinct impression that he preached much more democracy than he practiced and the direction of the institution is due to his helmsmanship.  If it were made known that the Axworthy wanted to give the degree to Toews, would the committee have felt they had a choice but to rubber stamp the president's wishes?
Thus, the awarding of an honourary degree to an individual so antithetical to University's bearing under Axworthy exposes a staggering degree of hypocrisy within the institution and ultimately his leadership. Further, contrary to Axworthy's view, "the young woman who was the valedictorian" (ouch!) did not make the award a political statement, the University did when it selected a serving hyperpartisan politician to receive it.
Erin Larson merely had the courage, temerity and integrity to point it out.

Update: Prof. Sampert agrees.

A political science professor at the university told CBC News on Monday that convocation is just the place to make political statements. Prof. Shannon Sampert said Larson should be applauded for what she did.
"I think, frankly, a student like that, who can stand up in the face of all this kind of authority and all this kind of pomp and circumstance and dignity and actually speak her mind, I think that we should be supporting the student," Sampert said.
Sampert said Larson made it clear before the convocation that she was going to make a statement against the honorary degree.
"If you do not want a political statement you should not be giving honorary degrees to controversial politicians," Sampert added.


Dr.Dawg said...

Axworthy just reveals, yet again, that there is no essential difference between Libs and Cons.

Dana said...

And the Dawg reveals why we'll have the Conservative government until hell freezes over.

Beijing York said...

Axworthy really is a hypocrite. But in this town, EVERYF*CKINGBODY seems to suck up to Vic Toews because he is the only Con MP with any influence in the Harper cabinet.

Axworthy is the one who made it political by greasing the palms of homophobic, racist and anti-democratic Toews.

Dr.Dawg said...

we'll have the Conservative government until hell freezes over

In either its blue or red form, quite possibly.

Boris said...

Axworthy strikes me as harbouring both the best and worst of the Liberals. The best in his public action on rights, democracy and fairness. The worst in that he is very much inhabits the elite realms power-broking.

Manitoba is also a small town when it comes to the real movers and shakers, from the Aspers to Axworthy.

It's good to see that bejewelled boat rocked a little.

kootcoot said...

What can one expect from a parochial school?

CanNurse said...

Great blog, Fern! Thanks for focusing on Erin & Axworthy both. I was so thrilled & inspired by Erin Larson's beautiful action on that stage, that I feel like taking up collections to help pay her student debt - or something!
I was so disgusted with Lloyd Axworthy - who is SUPPOSED to be an expert in both Constitutional & Human Rights Law - that I immediately sat down & wrote him a letter of outrage!
I'm with Dawg, Beijing & Boris re Libs now. I kept hoping for more. But there ain't no more, I'm afraid. Same-same - the old boys club. ;-/

double nickel said...

Lloyd has blown the wad on his many many pet construction projects. He needs Federal $$ to pay the bills. hence "honouring" one of the most disgusting politicians to ever come out of Manitoba. Throwing Erin under the bus was a no brainer for Lord Axworthy.

Dana said...

Axworthy may have had little or nothing to do with it according to this article

The President is not mentioned anywhere.

double nickel said...

Dana, if you for a second think the President doesn't have major influence in this matter, I've got a bridge for sale that you might be interested in.

Boris said...

Dana, that may well be true, but the UW has a recent track record of awarding honorary degrees to people close to Axworthy. Phil Fontaine (known Ax for decades, shared politics eg. Kelowna Accord) got one, so did Axworthy's very close US counterpart Madelaine Albright. Pat Broe, self-described close friend of Axworthy* is an American whose OmniTrax corp is heavily invested in Churchill as trade port and has had his name stuck on a series of conferences at the University. He cites Ax as convincing him to invest in Churchill**. Toews is an old hand in MB politics and there's no way he and Ax don't know each other in some way.

The people recently awarded honorary degrees often seem to be politically well connected with some orbit to Axworthy. Who knows, maybe he's the one doing all the proposing for honorary degrees.



Dana said...

Universities typically keep people like Chancellors and Presidents and other figurte head positions pretty firewalled off from academic decisions and HDs are academic decisions.

Perhaps Ax did send the odious ones name to committee. But that could just as easily backfire as succeed if he did had the committee decided that they would not be seen to toe the Pres line.

Kissinger said it best. "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

Beijing York said...

Whether Axworthy was involved in the decision or not, it still smears the school's reputation of being a centre of excellence in the study and promotion of human rights.

Ack, I had no idea Madeline Albright also got a degree. I guess Axworthy's idea of human rights is of the same ilk as the Carr Center's (Harvard) where Ignatieff used to share his bon mots about the humanitarian need to use torture.

Boris said...

Beijing York,
You know there might be a post extracted from the subject of 'elite' liberal discources on rights. They seem to be big on rhetoric and grand notions but by and large both Iggy and Axworthy are of a class that has never experienced the sharp end of rights issues.

They are the 19th century anthropologists of the rights field, never leaving their study but writing grand volumes derived from the reports of others. God forbid they get their hands dirty.

double nickel said...

Chancellors are figureheads. The Presidents run the show.

Boris said...

Axworthy is Preznit and Vice-Chancellor.