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Statement on CAUT investigation at University of Calgary

By Board of Governors Chair Gord Ritchie
April 19, 2017

In November 2015, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), a national association of faculty associations, established an Ad Hoc Investigatory Committee to look into alleged violations of academic freedom and conflict of interest surrounding the former Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability, and to consider other matters at the University of Calgary. CAUT is an external body that has no official standing at the University.

Matters relating to the former Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability have already had a proper and legitimate review. On Nov. 6, 2015 the Board of Governors initiated an independent and comprehensive review of the Centre, from its creation to current operations at that time.  The purpose of the review was to examine the circumstances surrounding the creation and operation of the Centre, and determine whether there was any breach of university policies or procedures then in place or any improper conduct in connection with the creation or operation of the Centre. The independent review was conducted by Terrence McMahon, Q.C., a respected former Justice of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench.

McMahon’s report, which was released on Dec. 18, 2015 and is publicly available, is clear that there were no breaches of university policies or procedures, and no improper conduct by anyone involved in connection with the creation and operation of the Centre. In particular, the report found “no improper conduct by the university or any of its employees” in its relationship with Enbridge, and stated that “none of the involvement by Enbridge ... resulted in any encroachment upon or compromise of the academic freedom of the University or its staff.”

The report also addressed the allegations that had been made publicly and through the media about the conduct of President Elizabeth Cannon. McMahon was thorough in his review of the allegations, including conflict of interest concerns, and stated:  “I conclude unequivocally that Dr. Cannon’s involvement in matters arising from the operation of the Enbridge Centre was proper, responsible, and required of her as president to protect the reputation of the University of Calgary as an institution that honours its commitment to donors.”

Although the CAUT report has not yet been released, the University is very concerned that the Ad Hoc Investigatory Committee has not conducted itself with the independence and fairness mandated by the CAUT Procedures in Academic Freedom Cases and that, as a result, any report the Committee issues will lack legitimacy.

On March 20, 2017, CAUT sent letters to certain individuals asking for responses to findings the Committee had under consideration.  However, on March 4, 2017 the following statements appeared in a presentation made by the Committee’s Chair, Professor Len Findlay, to a National Conference on University Governance in the 21st Century hosted by the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC (“CUFA BC”).  The presentation is public, as the slides are available on the CUFA BC website, and content has been circulated through social media: 

Slide 4
Institutional Autonomy and Academic Freedom
►  Which will it be? CAUT or UC? 

Slide 18
Contingencies of Progress
►  Here, I would simply reference CAUT’s invaluable but disregarded Open for Business On what terms? (2013), and also my experience investigating (with two colleagues), for the past year and a half, the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability at the University of Calgary
►  My personal view (without precedent or prejudice!) of the PUBLIC record in the Calgary case is DAMNING 

Slide 19
My takeaways from the ECCS at the University of Calgary
►  It is worse than we thought
►  Institutional leadership can be fraudulent and imperious
►  The collegium can be both spineless and merely careerist
►  CAUT’s fight with heteronomy means it is reviled and feared by pseudo-autonomists


The statements in the presentation clearly give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and pre-judging. The presentation was made even before CAUT sent the letters to certain individuals asking for responses to findings that the Committee was considering.  Such a flawed process is unacceptable for any credible investigation.  It certainly does not conform to any process which would be expected of an investigation conducted by any university.

A body with a mandate to conduct an investigation that is “independent” and is to review matters “fully and fairly” does not characterize the situation as some sort of contest with the subject of the investigation. It does not feign fairness by asking for responses from those against whom it proposes to make adverse findings only after publicly condemning the circumstances as “DAMNING,” and characterizing the individuals as “fraudulent and imperious.”

It is the view of the Governors of the University of Calgary that the McMahon Report stands as the proper and legitimate review of these matters and we have informed CAUT of our position. 

As I said to the University community when the McMahon report came out, President Cannon is one of Canada’s top university presidents, and she enjoys the full confidence and support of the Board.  Under her leadership the University has risen to new levels of excellence in teaching and learning, research, student experience, and community engagement.  As we wrap up our 50th anniversary year and launch our new Eyes High Strategy 2017-22 at the end of this month, let us celebrate our successes, and look forward to another 50 years of excellence.