Over the past decade the University of Calgary became a regular source of rightwing advocacy. At times it seemed like Canada's answer to the University of Chicago. There were a number of world-class, courageous academics but, during Harper's reign, the university also became a favoured bastion of the energy giants, especially Enbridge, and shady characters such as repeat jailbird/Harper confidante Bruce Carson.
Eventually the stench of bitumen-laundering overwhelmed the hallowed halls of foothills academia, sending some of UC's best and brightest fleeing in pursuit of academic integrity south of the border.
Two of these top-drawer academics have come out to expose what sent them packing. In September, David Keith, now professor of public policy at Harvard, wrote a piece in the Toronto Star chronicling how Bruce Carson and his Ottawa funded Canada School for Energy and Environment were welcomed into the university.
"It soon became clear that Carson was simply using his academic post to further the interests of the conservative government and a narrow segment of the energy industry. Documents released by the RCMP contain emails and interviews making it unequivocally clear that Carson worked closely with industry leaders to produce meetings and reports that had the patina of stakeholder representation, while in fact aiming to avoid meaningful public debate.
"Leaders of Alberta’s universities did nothing substantive to manage the problem until Carson’s scandal forced their hands. Even then, they failed to act decisively to ensure that public money was used for research that supported broad public interests."
CBC News has a report today of another leading academic, Joe Arvai, and what drove him to leave the University of Calgary. Professor Arvai's sage revolves around pipeline giant, Enbridge, and the Enbridge Center for Corporate Sustainability.
In that time, documents obtained by the CBC reveal a university bending over backward to accommodate the apparent public relations ambitions of a corporate patron.
Along the way, concerns about academic independence, the role of university research and the credibility of the researchers were dismissed.
...Faculty members, such as business professor Harrie Vredenburg, described Enbridge's influence at the university as a classic case of "he who pays the piper calls the tunes" in an email complaint to Waverman on Aug. 26, 2011.
...The pairing, though, was fraught from the start, and one of those who felt that way was Joe Arvai, the young academic – a rising star in the area of organizational decision-making – who had been brought in to head the new venture.
...From the outset, though, Enbridge's hands-on approach to the new centre troubled Arvai, according to the email trail.
Beyond naming rights, Enbridge sought to influence board memberships, staffing and the type of students that would be considered for awards, the emails show.
"In the latter case, it's likely that finds of academic work in the centre will not, at times, paint industry — including Enbridge — in the best light. I'm not sure that Enbridge understands this."
The dean responded that he did not understand Arvai's concerns.
At one point the dean told Arvai in a voicemail message, "If this goes belly up my ass is on the line and I won't feel happy with you either on this."
When it comes to the Enbridge Centre, questions remain about whether the university's administration — and U of C president Elizabeth Cannon, in particular — did enough to safeguard these concerns.
Emails show that Cannon was aware of the problems at the Enbridge centre before and after its launch in 2012.
But her emails at the time show she was intent on keeping Enbridge happy, especially considering the company had in the past given more money to the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
When it comes to academic independence a university ought to be like Caesar's wife - above reproach. The departures of David Keith and Joe Arvai plus all the records and documents the university had to disclose at the very least call the University of Calgary's integrity into question.
In so many ways this seems emblematic of the culture of the Decade of Harper.,