Two U of T professors say philanthropists are determining the university’s priorities, and not the faculty and students. Professors Paul Hamel and John Valleau believe there is a possibility that university benefactors could even shape academic work.

“We’re finding that philanthropy is driving the priorities of the university,” said Hamel. “They’re being set by administration, independent of what the faculty or the academy determines should be the priorities.”

The two started probing benefactor influence by examining the donor agreement [PDF] for the Munk School of Global Affairs, posted online by Hamel.

“The very first sentence states [the school] will be a top priority of U of T,” said Hamel. “Who decided that?”

The $35 million donation — the largest in U of T history — was announced in April and comes from The Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation. The remaining $25 million comes from the Ontario government. The charity also hired Ensight Canada, a lobbying firm, to advocate federal funding for the school.

Peter Munk is the Chairman of Barrick Gold, a multinational mining corporation. The school aims to become internationally renowned by housing programs involving global politics and a potential journalism program.

Hamel and Valleau’s main criticism is that the school was never determined as a priority at the Academic Board of Governing Council.

U of T Provost Cheryl Misak explained that through academic planning, faculties identify priorities and then seek donors who can meet their goals.

“Departments will put through their academic plans that they have an idea and we find ways of doing it. An academic priority is identified on the ground,” said Misak. “The idea that donors are driving academic priorities is crazy, just crazy.”

Misak said that, although not explicitly stated in meeting minutes, global affairs have organically become a top priority of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“Every university wants to study things global, it’s a really serious priority of every university,” she said. “We already had a Munk Centre. The faculty wanted to enhance its offerings for student programs [so] we asked him for more. We’re really lucky Munk stepped up to the plate. Peter Munk has allowed U of T to be a world leader in the region of global affairs.”

But Hamel feels the donation was arranged to deal with limited resources.

“[The donation] was pursued by administration sort of like a business deal,” said Hamel, explaining how priorities require resources and noting that the deal comes in the midst of the faculty’s almost $60 million budget shortfall [PDF].

Of the charity’s $35 million donation, $15 million is set to be donated in annual increments until 2017. A university liaison must report to the charity each year. Hamel says over the course of the donations, school directors will be conscious that “hanging in balance is $15 million” opening potential for “influencing the academic mission of the university.”

Misak says that reporting to the charity is a matter of accountability, not agenda-setting.

“When people give, they give for a purpose. They want to know the money was actually used for that purpose,” said Misak.

“You just want to have a check to make sure the money given to where it’s intended. Occasionally, when someone gives a lot of money […] they want the school to be really great, not just sort-of-great. So it’s [the initial] $10 million donation and then we review that it’s on the track to greatness.”

“We need to revisit the structure of governance at the University of Toronto,” said Hamel, adding that he and Valleau are now examining other donor agreements and have started presenting to other faculty members.

They also take issue with the agreement’s space usage of the school, located in the Heritage Mansion at Bloor Street West and Devonshire Place.
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The donor agreement states that the Canadian International Council, a corporate think tank including Peter Munk and Munk School director Janice Stein, gets up to 25 per cent of the building.

“We’re having a space problem at this university,” said Hamel. He admitted that CIC will pay rent for its space, but noted it will share areas like meeting and dining rooms.

“There’s not enough space for classrooms, study space, but they get space,” he said.

Of the agreement’s requirements, Hamel finds the front door policy the most bizarre.

The agreement states that “the main entrance of the Heritage Mansion will be a formal entrance reserved only for senior staff and visitors to the School and the CIC.” Others must enter at secondary entrances.

“It’s so pernicious,” said Valleau. “It seems so out-of-touch with the social mores of the university [and] doesn’t seem to be an important contribution to scholarly life.”

“I can even walk into Simcoe Hall in the front door, like anyone else,” said Hamel. “The point of this university is not to make it hierarchical and exclusive in certain domains, the point of the place is to make it open to everybody. And here explicitly written in the agreement, and agreed to by the university, is precisely the opposite.”

He also noted the agreement’s emphasis on branding. For all eight years of the donation, the foundation will contribute $250,000 annually to branding. The university will hire a media-tracking service to examine the school’s media coverage.

“To agree in advance to [the branding campaign] seems like an extraordinary thing to do as it appears to limit university authority,” said Valleau.

“[This] runs completely counter to the essence of what an academic place is supposed to be, because branding and marketing are really often antithetical to academic work,” said Hamel, asking if academic work unfavourable to Munk’s corporate involvement would be publicized.

“It’s amazing how much emphasis is put on branding in the document.”

Misak says the university community has achieved much because of its benefactors.

“We don’t get enough funding from government and tuition to make these investments. I get a little exercised over this,” said Misak. “What we’ve been able to do over the past decade because of our benefactors: public health, nursing, global affairs, social work; these are all our biggest gifts from the past decade. We need to celebrate our donors.”

But Valleau says it’s a question of independence.

“[U of T] is under pressures and the question is how it’s coping in satisfying these pressures,” said Valleau. It appears there is no governing structure serving the university in a meaningful way.“

Hamel said he believes university administration is glad he and Valleau are looking into donor agreements, since universities are about critical thinking. He noted that administration provided the donor agreement quickly upon request and without question.

The Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation, which shares a phone number with Barrick Gold, did not return an interview request by the time of publication.