If scholars practice the uncompromising application of reason, Valleau says they need a special social structure that allows them to test their hypotheses by trading ideas inspired by other scholars: the university. To work for the benefit of society, the university also needs protection from that society.
The benefit society gets from this is innovation. Buzzword though it is, Valleau stands by it. Valleau maintains that what academics actually do is innovate—a revolutionary activity.
“The word ‘innovation’ is an interesting one,” he says. His definition of innovation means more the “bringing goods to market.” Innovations benefit society when they are treated as public goods, says Valleau. “The scholarly researcher is supported by the public, works in a public institution, uses public equipment, and the results are surely open to the public. Furthermore, knowledge is not profitable. It is not diminished by use if shared. It should be part of the common knowledge. That, I think, is the principle of scholarly activity.”
“What scholars do is they test the limits of their understanding. With theories, you can never prove a theory, you c a n only disprove it or discuss what range it covers, and so on. What one can do is to test the limits of our understanding, and in doing that, one creates new paradigms of understanding.”
Unlike academics, powerful people have an interest in maintaining the status quo, to not be supplanted by up-and-comers. The revolutionary quality of true innovation, therefore, poses a serious threat to industry and government alike.
So how did we get to the present state of things? “First of all, you cut back the funding for scholarly work until it’s a pittance,” he says. “And then offer to reinstate the funding, but only under special conditions.”
U OF T THE WEED
Janice Newson, York University sociology professor and co-author of Universities Mean Business, agrees with Valleau’s assessment of the situation. While visible signs of corporate presence are only now appearing, she says, corporations have been highly involved in Canadian universities for at least three decades. Newson characterizes corporatization as a weed: “In the ’90s the tubers began to send up shoots, and the shoots were names on university buildings that belong to big corporations.” A few instances from the 1990s offer hints to the present underlying corporate culture at Simcoe Hall.
In 1997, Northern Telecom donated $8 million to found the NorTel Institute of Telecommunications, a master’s program, and two research chairs. The terms of the agreement relating to NorTel Institute researchers’ intellectual property rights were not made public at the original announcement. Investigation by The Varsity and the U of T Faculty Association showed that while U of T still owned the intellectual property from Institute research programs, the licensing option for Institute products go immediately to NorTel. More alarming, perhaps, is that intellectual property not pertaining to a researcher’s specific project can still belong to U of T, and by extension, NorTel. As per U of T’s inventions policy, faculty and their grad students do not hold any of these rights. Neither does the taxpayer. Through this donation NorTel has effectively set up its own lab, which also uses university resources.
In 2000, the pharmaceutical company Shering Canada Inc., producers of Claritin, donated $34.5 million to the Alzheimer’s research program led by the U of T Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases Network and the Hospital for Sick Children. A better term for the largest “gift” in Canadian history might be “intellectual property agreement,” as it grants Shering-Plough (Shering Canada’s parent company) exclusive worldwide licenses to produce and sell the products and technology developed through the program. The coup de grace for scholarly independence, however, came with the secretive deal pertaining to Joseph L. Rotman’s donation to the School of Management. The university matched Rotman’s $15-million gift to found and endow six faculty chairs based on the recommendations of the Rotman Foundation. The faculty was also renamed the Rotman School of Management.
Rotman stipulated that the management school must have “special status” within the university. This status means that business education must remain a focus at U of T and the faculty is protected from budget cuts. At the same time, many of the rules applying to other faculties at U of T simply don’t apply to Rotman. In some circumstances, for example, the foundation had the right to bypass Governing Council (to which Rotman was appointed by the Ontario government in 1995) and have the chair of the Association of American Universities dictate policy to the university. Joseph Rotman is also allowed to stipulate which public relations firm the faculty uses. A final term of the agreement was that the terms of the agreement were to be kept confidential.
After The Varsity obtained a copy of the agreement in 1997 and published its details, public outcry forced the Governing Council to renegotiate with Rotman, amending the agreement to meet the basic demands of the U of T Faculty Association. What the initial agreement showed, however, was Simcoe Hall’s blindness to questions of conflict of interest, and its unwillingness to present its deals with corporations to university members in a transparent way.
Incidentally, at the time Rotman was on the board of, among other things, Barrick Gold Corp., whose CEO, Peter Munk, donated $6.4 million that same year.
The Varsity made public the conditions of that agreement, which had been signed two years previously without consultation with the academic board, after obtaining the contract through U of T’s Access to Information Policy. The $6.4-million donation, to be paid over 10 years, came with conditions, stipulating that a council set up for the centre would have to cooperate with the Barrick Gold international advisory board. Another condition forbade the university from cutting Munk Centre funding for 30 years, which would amount to an opportunity cost for other departments during periods of government cutbacks. Like the Rotman agreement, this contract was amended subsequent to outcry from the UTFA.
Yet allegations that the Munk Centre has an institutional bias haunts it still. When in 1997 George Bush was given an honourary degree by U of T, many called it a conflict of interest (Bush was highly connected with Barrick Gold at the time). This year, a committee of senior administrators deemed posters representing Munk in an unfavourable light as “potentially defamatory” and, in an unprecedented move, ordered that they be torn down.
“What [the Munk Centre] most seems to serve as,” says Valleau, “is a platform for Janice Stein [director of the centre] to, unchallenged, offer support to the government or the Liberal Party, and to have the prestige of a major institute at the University of Toronto to back up what she says, never challenged by people at the Munk Centre or elsewhere at the university.”
U OF T THE FRAUD ARTIST
In the summer of 2000 the residents of Wiarton, Ontario, complained about suspicious odors in their drinking water. Throughout June and August they noticed yellow and orange spots and bleach marks in their laundry. The Ontario Clean Water Agency received calls from 33 Wiarton residents with complaints from during this time. “Many refused to drink the water that marked their clothing,” said an August 23 report in the Globe & Mail about the issue.
Meanwhile, unknown to the residents, U of T professor Robert Andrews was heading an experiment under contract with the chemical company ERCO Worldwide, pilot-testing chlorine dioxide as a water purifier on Wiarton’s water supply. The study’s aim was to test a newly patented chlorine dioxide generator, the SPC ERCO R101, and to examine whether chlorine dioxide could replace ordinary chlorine as a water disinfectant.
Following the complaints, the experiment was abandoned two weeks before its scheduled Sept. 4 completion date. Despite this, the study was declared a success that “exceeded the project objectives and expectations” in a report by Andrews and Georges Ranger, a patent-holder for the generator being tested in the study. None of the journal articles published on the study mentioned any of the residents’ complaints.
“No customer taste and odor complaints were reported during the study period,” said an article on the Wiarton study published in the Journal of Environmental Engineering and Science, despite the fact that these complaints were reports in several dailies, and a letter that appeared in the weekly Wiarton Echo.
Forty per cent of respondents reported bleach spots in their laundry in a Sept. 23 survey. Thirty-five per cent reported noticing adverse changes in tap-water quality. Some reported the deaths of small animals. Despite these results, Andrews and Ranger described the water supplied to citizens during the study as “significantly superior compared to chlorine” and “likely the best-quality drinking surface water in Ontario” in a paper in 2001.
In 2003, ERCO boasted that the SPC ERCO R101 represented a growth opportunity for the company. They talked of expanding into “industrial and municipal water treatment” as an avenue for sales.
When The Varsity contacted Andrews for comment, he was surprised to hear from us. “That was all done a long time ago, and I really have nothing to add,” he said. Far from being concluded, however, the matter is now being heard in federal court, thanks to a whistleblower who was Andrews’ Master’s student. His complaints don’t end at Wiarton.
U OF T THE PLAGIARIST
In March of 1998, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada awarded Christopher Radziminski a two-year, $31,400 scholarship. He was admitted to a Master’s of Applied Science program in civil engineering at U of T. Here, he became part of the new “Drinking Water Research Group,” beginning his thesis in the summer of 1999 on the disinfection of drinking water and focusing on an alternative to chlorine called chlorinedioxide. This was co-supervised by Robert Andrews and Christian Chauret.
In the summer of 2002, Radziminski found out that he was listed as an author on two publications without his knowledge or consent, based on research he had carried out. On Jan. 4, 2003, he filed a formal complaint to U of T’s School of Graduate Studies, alleging “Incomplete and/or inaccurate presentation of results,” and “extensive reproduction of work from [his] thesis without permission.” SGS replied three weeks later, saying the matter was out of their jurisdiction.
Barry Adams, the chair of the civil engineering department, held an inquiry that, according to the faculty’s own Framework of Ethics in Research, was to be concluded within 10 working days.
Nearly six months after filing his complaint, Radziminski got a reply from the department, dismissing his complaint.
Radziminski says, “When I first discovered the papers and then looked more deeply into the research in the papers…I naively believed that the university would take my allegations seriously, and that they would investigate.”
Confused and discouraged, he wrote to the scientific journals involved, and on May 20, 2004, received a threatening letter from a Bay Street law firm retained by the University of Toronto, threatening to sue him for defamation for communicating with “third parties.”
Eventually, one journal retracted its article, and the other censured both professors, prohibiting them for writing for or reviewing it or any of its associated journals for a certain period.
The Canadian Federation of Students National Executive met in October of 2004 and decided to support Mr. Radziminski’s case, allocating funds for litigation. Explaining the unusual degree of support given to Radziminski, the federation noted that students are particularly vulnerable when bringing forward complaints of misconduct, because virtually no protection exists in Canadian academia for whistleblowers.
“I am actually quite shocked,” said Radziminski of his experience. “There really is nothing that I have seen that exists to ensure research integrity in Canada.”
A match made in heaven
The MaRS Discovery District calls itself “a non-profit innovation centre connecting science, technology and social entrepreneurs with business skills, networks and capital to stimulate innovation and accelerate the creation and growth of successful Canadian enterprises.”
The centre often works closely with U of T. The U of T Asset Management Corporation and U of T Innovations Foundation, two subsidiaries of the university, are highly involved with MaRS . Ron Ventor, the interim director of UTIF, spoke giddily about the facility. “In the research commercialization arena, this is the most exciting meeting place in the world,” he said.
MaRS’ CEO, Ilse Treurnicht, is married to U of T’s president David Naylor. Four other members on the MaRS board of directors are staff or governors at U of T. The school has contributed $5 million to the nonprofit enterprise.
Much of MaRS ’s activities are funded by the provincial government. A June 26, 2006 press release from the Ontario government states that the government has invested $46 million in MaRS . More than $50 million of Ontario government funds have been channeled into the facility since Dalton McGuinty became Ontario’s first research and innovation minister.
In 2006 the Government of Ontario announced that it would put up $25 million a year for the Premier’s Summit Award in Medical Research, to be administered by MaRS . The amount is matched by private funds, and are awarded each year to ten “internationally recognized leaders in medical research.”
The award committee includes John Evans, president emeritus of U of T, as its chair, and NSERC president Suzanne Fortier as a member.
Science for sale
One of the most notable whistleblowers in U of T history is Nancy Olivieri, who was on the U of T medical faculty through her work for the universityaffiliated Sick Kids Hospital. Her case emerged in 1996 when the worldrenowned hematologist decided to breach a confidentiality agreement she had signed with Apotex Inc.
The Toronto-based pharmaceutical company funded Olivieri’s research in deferiprone (an experimental drug for people with thalassaemia), but Olivieri started to lose faith in the drug and came to believe that it was causing serious side affects. Apotex disagreed and threatened legal action if she violated her contract by making her claims public.
After submitting her findings to the New England Journal of Medicine, Olivieri was removed from her hospital post. During this time, as she wrote in a letter to the Globe and Mail, neither the university nor the hospital gave her support as both were expecting large donations from Apotex. Olivieri was reinstated after a 1999 academic tenure and freedom committee of the Canadian Association of University Teachers commissioned a report that exonerated her, concluding her academic freedom was infringed when Apotex threatened legal action if she went public with her fears about deferiprone.
A 1999 scandal made the university’s conflict of interest clear when then-U of T president Robert Prichard was caught lobbying the federal government on behalf of the company, asking that the government reconsider regulations on the generic drug producers that, Apotex claimed, would prevent them from fulfilling their promised $20-million towards a proposed $90 million Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology Research at U of T.