It’s business as usual at the University of Calgary as administration reverts to damage control after yet another scandal. Administration’s heavy-handed involvement in the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability shows they care more about corporate donations than the student experience, despite their constant denial of this claim.
It happens a few times each year — administration makes a decision or does something that garners backlash from students or the general public, causing them to backpedal and defend themselves against the outcry, claiming they only acted in students’ interests. In the end, administration either gets their way, or reluctantly reverses what they did to appease their critics. No one is fired or punished for poor performance, despite this happening all too frequently.
Eventually, the scandal is swept under the rug and more or less forgotten about. Everything continues as usual. If anything, complaints are met with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘that’s just how administration is’ attitude.
The refreshing thing about the Enbridge controversy is that administration was actually held accountable for their actions. The backlash was finally significant enough to result in some kind of consequences. Elizabeth Cannon was pressured to step down from her board position with Enbridge, and a third-party investigation into the centre is underway.
But the Enbridge scandal couldn’t have been much of a shock. In recent years, many decisions from administration raised doubt over their claims of acting in students’ interest. These choices — which always seem to appease corporate influence — show that something like the Enbridge scandal was almost inevitable.
In 2013, administration wanted to create a privately-operated corporate college to recruit incoming international students. The college was part of the Eyes High strategy, and was meant to increase the number of international students at the U of C.
The Faculty Association was against this plan, claiming it would lead to academic outsourcing. It took the threat of legal action before the initiative was finally scrapped. Ultimately, a compromise was made and the U of C now uses an in-house recruitment model to attract international students.
Later that same year, U of C administration faced backlash from students over their $8.8-million executive office renovations. While around $3-million of the renovations was necessary to repair the decrepit building, many students felt the makeover was overly lavish. Critics often brought up the new $150,000 staircase as an example of the renovations’ needless extravagance.
What all these decisions have in common is that they were made to appease corporate donors. A private corporate college might have helped administration reach one of their Eyes High initiatives at a low cost — a seductive advertisement for potential corporate investors. In the case of the office renovations, part of the justification was that the fancier offices provided a suitable space for shaking down corporate money. The university’s image needed to be shiny and new if they wanted money from companies like Suncor, Talisman or even Enbridge.
If the people in charge of our school aren’t going to be punished when they make selfish decisions, they should at least be honest about where their loyalties lie. Besides, how can an administration currently in a legal battle with its Students’ Union over the ownership of a building honestly claim they have students’ best interests at heart?
The next time administration ends up in the news for some shady decision they made, think about who they probably had in mind. And when they inevitably claim they were acting in the interests of the student experience, be sure to take it with a grain of salt.
Scott Strasser, Gauntlet Editorial Board