While philanthropy is regarded as a virtuous action, its use for the sake of influence can have serious consequences for the institutions receiving it. Many of you may have heard of the Peter Munk donation, which has been a hot topic for some time now. The Munk Centre of Global Affairs, located on St. George and Bloor, will constructed under a $35 million donation made by the Peter and Melanie Munk Foundation. Peter Munk is the president and owner of Barrick Gold Mining Corp, the biggest mining company in Canada, and one of the biggest in the world. Discussion at U of T about this donation revolves around whether donations such as these affect academic freedom and whether these corporate donations push a neoliberal agenda. A look at the grassroots origins of this struggle will prove to highlight the arguments made by these people, and will reveal a battle going beyond academic freedom.
Barrick Gold operates mines in Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, the Dominican Republic, and other locations. Gold mining is regarded as one of the most socially and environmentally degrading industries in the world, with the use of cyanide and other chemicals being correlated with disease, contaminated water, and injured wildlife. While this is aggravating in itself, the social repression following the mining industry involves displacement of communities, destruction of villages, targeted deaths of anti-mining activists, and the erosion of agriculture.
On May 2009, toxic waste between a gold mine located in North Mara, Tanzania, spilled into River Thigithe. Reports from the surrounding villages alleged that 20 people and from 700 and 1,000 head of livestock died from the contaminated water. Barrick Gold denied responsibility for the deaths, while villagers living near the mine claimed they were still experiencing health-related illnesses from acidic water. There are also reports that a number of people have been killed by security forces belonging to the company. These types of stories are repeated throughout the operating areas of Barrick Gold, such as Papua New Guinea, where reports of gang rape of women and killings from local villages have been testified against security forces working for Barrick Gold.
While these factors are disturbing, especially since Peter Munk sponsors U of T, does this mean that it has any effect on the academia?
U of T website The Blue and White released an article called “A Response to The Perils of Philanthropy.” Gullibly outlining the “recites” of the contract produced by Munk and U of T, there was an explanation stating that the University will provide the donor an annual written report with descriptions of the programs, initiatives and activities, and will also offer to meet with the Board of The Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation once a year to discuss those programs. While in some circles this may be called accountability, this can also be seen as the censorship of academia through a conflict of interest. Munk has been known to be a leading lobbyist against regulations for Canadian mining companies, and has lobbied against Bill-C 300, a private members bill that was said to require divestment from companies that face human rights allegations overseas.
And while this donation claims to respect the integrity of academia, let’s look at it from a different perspective: if a graduate student is writing a thesis on human rights abuses, and uses the mining industry as an example of abuses by corporate organizations, would this pass by unnoticed the Munk School of Global Affairs? How about a course on mining injustices in the global south? Would it even stand a second look when being overviewed by the Peter Munk Foundation?
Having a corporate funded school of global affairs by a company that has been known to lobby for reduced regulation and who also silences activists is questionable. Possibly allowing them to have a say in the programs the school produces is further questions the true nature of accountability.
Donations coming from donors like Peter Munk push a neoliberal agenda which will serve to silence academic work which runs counter to his initiatives. The interests of Barrick Gold are in a research community which would serve corporate interests, and shutting down opposition to their gold mining. By having Munk as a lead donor to the University of Toronto, a critical academia that challenges Barrick Gold’s harmful practices will not be present.
For students, workers, professors, and other members of our community, it is time to mobilize against this Munk donation, and the general corporatization of U of T. Our perspectives will not be heard by either the Governing Council or any other governing body. It is up to us to form an opposing narrative to the general privatization of opinion within the University. Peter Munk and his corporation conduces a right wing agenda in favor of business interest, affecting how the University performs its research, and the kind of discourse we, as students, are exposed to.