Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Honourary degrees...(updated)

I don't have much of a problem with honorary degrees, provided they are conferred on people who have done something in the public good. I do have a problem when they are all too often politicised, given to donors and friends of university brass. In my undergraduate at Winnipeg, former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy supervised the degree conferral on close friend of his, US counterpart Madeleine Albright.

Now listen (streaming broadcast)* to the well-compensated president of my second alma mater in action against one of the university sociologists, Dr. Amy Kaler, over the decision to award the Nestle corporation CEO an honourary Doctor of Laws for leadership in water stewardship. Where to begin? The condescending, patronising tone with which university CEO President Samarasekera engaged "the professor" Dr. Amy Kaler? Or Dr. Samarasekera's deflective responses to the substantive criticisms voiced by Dr. Kaler? This award is nothing but political in nature and tantamount to giving the degree to a corporation invested in the privatisation of the substance of survival for all life.

As a recent alumnus, I am embarrassed and appalled by the behaviour and attitude of Dr. Samarasekera toward Dr. Kaler. To publicly attack a professor in the manor of a politician demeans the office of president and the university as a whole.

A formal apology is required.

Update...The Council of Canadians shreds Samarasekera:

Within 24 hours of University of Alberta President Indira Samarasekera publicly claiming that “as far as I'm concerned there is one group that is upset and that's the Council of Canadians” over the University granting Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe an honorary degree and his name being considered as part of the External Advisory Board of the new Water Initiative, a massive international backlash is taking shape.
In an open letter to the university president, more than 70 prominent organizations from more than 20 countries are calling on the University to reverse its decision and instead “that other voices be added [to the External Advisory Board] which better reflect the importance of water as a commons, human right and public trust.” The letter and full list of signatories is included below.
The organizations include Public Services International (which represents more than 20 million workers, represented by 650 unions in 148 countries and territories), Greenpeace Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Sierra Club of Canada, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Council of Canadians, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta, and Public Interest Alberta.
Other organizations in Canada which have signed the letter include the Water Commission of the Union of Ontario Indians, Coalition Eau Secours! (Quebec), Earthroots, Edmonton Friends of the North Environmental Society, Indigenous Environmental Network, INFACT Canada, Manitoba Wildlands, Mother Earth Water Walk, Ontario Native Women's Association, Polaris Institute, People’s Health Movement of Canada. International organizations have also signed the letter from the UK, USA, Germany, France, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, Belgium, South Africa, Cataluña, Malaysia, Uruguay, Egypt, Luxembourg, Togo, Nigeria, Italy, Ecuador, and Haiti.
“This should put to rest the notion that there’s not much opposition to this ill-conceived decision,” says Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow. “The University of Alberta should reverse its decision to grant Nestlé’s Brabeck-Letmathe a degree and a position of influence in water policy, before bringing the institution into disrepute.”

*I removed the embedded player because it automatically plays every time this page is loaded. I'm sure others found it annoying too.


Moon Rattled said...

This is the first I'd heard of this dumbass (the president of UA), so I looked her up. She has stunning track record.

"On July 1, 2009, the University of Alberta purchased President Samarasekera's private residence for $930,000. The home was renovated soon after the purchase, using an undisclosed amount of money from the University's capital budget. The University administration, including Samarasekera, has been criticized by students and the media for completing the purchase and renovations in spite of operating budget shortfalls."

"In a interview with the Edmonton Journal on October 21, 2009, Samarasekera raised her concerns regarding the fact that 58% of university undergraduates in Canada are female. She continued to comment: "I'm going to be an advocate for young white men, because I can be. No one is going to question me when I say we have a problem"; as well as, "we'll wake up in 20 years and we will not have the benefit of enough male talent at the heads of companies and elsewhere." A group of students calling themselves the "Samarasekera Response Team" responded by putting up around 300 posters satirizing her comments. President Samarasekera responded by emailing the entire student body stating that she appreciated satire as a form of freedom of speech, but that such debate should be held in a cordial and respectable manner."

Whoever thought this idiot would make a reputable head of the university needs their head examined.

Oh yeah, and she's on the Scotia Bank board of directors too...I'm sure that's a plumb assignment.

Boris said...

Moon Rattled,
Oh yes. She's a piece of work. The comments on gender equity were the talk of campus at the time. Her clothing allowance alone was rumoured to be worth 20K. It seriously would not surprise if the university bought her a Challenger jet.

Dave said...

Clothing allowance?!

Doesn't UofA have a free store?

Beijing York said...

I remember this woman being interviewed. She was a pompous, pro-business piece of work who was going on about the school being open for business and it being the new reality for university funding.

Boris said...

BY, yes and she is for some reason treated like and behaves like a CEO.