Canadian post-secondary institutions came under increased scrutiny last week following revelations that Carleton University ceded improper academic control to donor Clayton Riddell.

Carleton has come under heavy fire following a campaign by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) to publicize a secret $15 million donation from Calgary businessman Riddell.


The money was to go towards the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management. According to the contract, the Riddell Family Charitable Foundation selected three of the five members of a committee that was given control of the graduate program’s budget, academic hiring, and curriculum.

CAUT called Carleton’s deal with Riddell “unprecedented and unacceptable.” The university now says the terms of the deal will be renegotiated, as they do not reflect Carleton’s academic independence.

Claims have multiplied in recent weeks that the academic independence of Canadian universities is endangered by institutions accepting conditional endowments and giving donors hefty decision-making power over university programs.

Last March, the CAUT sought to censure York University, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University, over concerns related to the universities’ partnership with Research in Motion founder Jim Balsillie and his private think-tank.

York later rejected a $30 million dollar donation from Balsillie that would have established a school of international relations at the university.

The most recent scandal has prompted the Council of Ontario Universities to announce that it will issue a guide to member institutions on handling delicate financial and philanthropic matters. It has also re-focused public attention on contentious arrangements at the University of Toronto.

The University of Toronto faced similar criticism in April 2010 when it established the Munk School of Global Affairs. U of T accepted a $50 million donation from Peter Munk, chairman of Barrick Gold Corp., to construct the Munk School of Global Affairs.

One of the terms of the donation gives Munk and his heirs sole discretion to take back $15 million of the donation in the event that they are not content with the school.

In the wake of the Carleton-Riddell scandal, University of Toronto president David Naylor told The Globe and Mail, “We are seeing a small but perceptible shift in the zeitgeist of philanthropy,” predicting that with it will come “changes in the structures of arrangements.”

“I think the electricity you’re seeing is because some of these wires are crossed, and people are trying to figure out where the insulation tape needs to be applied,” Naylor said.

With files from The Globe and Mail

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