“Take the money and keep quiet”

Simon Fraser University is under fire for accepting $10 million from Goldcorp. Stoking the flames even further, SFU elected to name its new arts facility in the Woodward’s complex the “Goldcorp Centre for the Arts”.

What’s the problem with Goldcorp? Well, it has been accused of human rights violations, particularly in Guatemala, and in a written response, the corporation committed to integrating respect for human rights into its business-management processes throughout the company.

Last Thursday (January 27), a group of SFU students and staff staged a protest close to a meeting of the university’s board of governors, held at Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver. SFU has promised to respond sooner and not later. This would be a baptism of fire for newly appointed SFU president, Andrew Petter.

My friend Bob Russell is leading the SFU faculty effort to get the administration to return the cash. In a lengthy letter, which we include below, he describes the reaction of his colleagues: “Some of the Contemporary Arts faculty members with whom I have spoken felt very disturbed about the secrecy surrounding the process and how their School has been in effect “branded.”  Others are more ambivalent, preferring to just “take the money and keep quiet.”

The SFU controversy is not the first and will definitely not be the last. A couple of years ago, Harvard and Georgetown University were under pressure to refuse a $20 million gift from Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-aziz Al Saud,  to fund four chairs (one carrying his rather extensive name)  in contemporary Islamic thought and life, as well as graduate students. Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman had no problem accepting the cash, but Suzanne Gershowitz of the American Enterprise Institute objected: “Accepting money from a member of the royal family legitimizes the regime.”

Even more unusual is the latest from the University of Western Ontario. It is about a $35,000 scholarship to one MBA student donated by Goldman Sachs.  The president of the UWO Faculty Association objected:  “I don’t think the university would want to enter into a relationship with mobsters, or any other organization accused of fraud.” He blames the corporation for the economic meltdown, which he claims left many faculty members with reduced pensions as their investments dropped in value.

University Boards everywhere are by now highly sensitized to these issues. They all have policies for “Gift Acceptance” … which are conveniently tweaked when necessary.

Even more tricky are the issues of ethical or “responsible investments” by universities, which also have to worry about yet another ranking: the “College Sustainability Report Card”. Last year, UBC got a B-grade on “Investment priorities” and a miserable D on “Shareholder engagement”. In order to rectify the situation, the Board of Governors  is attempting to formulate a  coherent set of practices on environmental, social, and governance issues that can be implemented by  a “Responsible Investment Advisory Committee for Endowment Assets”. Easier said than done!

Remarkably, the students’ union at Cambridge University has taken the lead in  campaigning for social and environmental sustainability and responsible investment, by developing a set of best practices for universities. Nearly all the colleges at Cambridge now have a Green or Ethical Affairs officer.  North America is still far behind on this front!

Here is Russell Letter re: Goldcorp

Another public letter to SFU President can be found here.

This entry was posted in Board of Governors, Op-eds. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “Take the money and keep quiet”

  1. Pingback: PPP: Plagiarism, Philanthropy and Politics | Piece of Mind

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