‘The University has formed some excellent and valuable partnerships with private enterprise in the past. So long as academic freedom is in no way compromised and genuine advantages can be demonstrated in quality or efficiency, the Task Force recommends the expansion of such partnerships in the future.’ —Towards 2030
Who’s voting for corporate partnerships?
Come Oct. 23, Governing Council is bound to vote almost unanimously in favour of more corporate presence at U of T, as outlined in the Towards 2030 plan. The GC vote is the final one needed for the plan to be adopted as the university’s guiding principles.
Perhaps GC’s willingness to give corporations opportunities to fund research at U of T has something to do with the overwhelming corporate presence on the council.
Out of 50 GC members, government appointees, presidential appointees, and alumni make up 26. Government appointees, who are supposed to represent community interest on the council, are selected by the Standing Committee on Government Agencies, comprised almost entirely of Liberal and Conservative MPPs.
This year, as usual, most of them are deeply invested in the corporate world.
Many of the companies represented on GC are already donors at the university. David Asper, of the CanWest family, joined GC this year. Asper gave the university $7.5 million this fall to establish the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the Faculty of Law. Asper is also chairperson of the National Post, which is on the President’s Circle list for its donations to the university.
Some alumni governors are also prominent in the corporate world. The Varsity found at least three of the eight alumni on GC are CEOs or directors in large corporations, in addition to two presidents or owners of one or more smaller companies.
Students, staff, and faculty make up 22 elected spots on GC, and while that cannot form a majority, even these members usually don’t challenge decisions.
Why is private/corporate funding a problem?
According to U of T’s administration, private and corporate funding has no effect on the actual research, because there are policies in place to keep donors at arm’s length from the academics.
However, these same policies were in place when a U of T faculty member was found producing reports tailored to suit the needs of its donor in a water purification study in Wiarton, Ontario in 2001. Federal courts said that funding agency NSERC is not responsible for ensuring academic integrity. Nobody at U of T—not even the professor heading the research—was held accountable for the breach. The same professor later plagiarized from the research of his student, Chris Radziminski, and altered his conclusions to his corporate sponsor’s convenience. This case was quietly settled out of court.
In an earlier case, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and U of T fired David Healy after he claimed in a seminar that Prozac, an anti-depressant produced by a CAMH donor Eli Lilly, might cause suicide in certain patients. Naylor, who was dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the time, refused to carry out a complete investigation into the firing, saying Healy had expressed views that were unscientific.
In 1996 U of T was found dancing to the tune of donor Apotex in the university’s most embarrassing academic freedom case. When Nancy Olivieri, Sick Kids’ Hospital doctor and U of T researcher, came across untold side effects of an Apotex drug, neither the university nor the hospital would do anything about it.
Eventually, citing a health risk, Olivieri breached her confidentiality agreement and published her findings—a move that got her fired. She was eventually reinstated in 1999 when a committee from the Canadian Association of University Teachers concluded that her academic freedom had been infringed. Again, Naylor refused to pursue further investigations.
When asked about these cases, U of T spokesperson Rob Steiner said, “There are a lot of people who say a lot of things that actually don’t match up with the reality of it.”
Corporations and individuals attach their names to projects, and often get the right to first refusal on products coming out of the research, but they only pay on average 20 cents to every dollar that goes into these projects. The portrayal of corporate donations as generosity belies these companies’ interests in profiting from the research they fund.
With files from Hilary Barlow