By Keean Bexte, October 27, 2015 —
I wonder what Geoffrey Cumming thinks about the legal battle that was just made public between the University of Calgary Students’ Union and administration. I only ask because he recently donated $100 million to the Faculty of Medicine, so he figuratively and literally has his name attached to the place. What about the Taylor family? Seymour Schulich?
Whether they like it or not, their names are now attached to a university that appears to hate its students — even if that might not be true.
The U of C recently made headlines due to an ownership dispute between administration and the SU. MacHall is the U of C’s student centre and is a massive revenue generator for the SU. Despite this, the SU signed an operating agreement in 1999 that stated the university owns the building. The U of C argues this counts as proof of ownership, and also claim they have other documentation backing this up. The SU disagrees, so they’re suing the university.
When your typical donor looks at this lawsuit, they won’t see a $19-million organization that signed away its rights to a building a decade and a half ago saying they had their fingers crossed. Rather, they will see a $790-million organization seemingly picking on a bunch of kids.
Don’t be fooled. Though they may just be students, this is a highly calculated move by the SU. The university is on the eve of its 50th anniversary celebration, a lucrative fundraising opportunity likely to court big ticket donations to the school.
The SU forced administration into a legal battle after they saw the stalemate they were in. Since they are already in the spotlight for their anniversary, the lawsuit puts the U of C on the wrong end of what may be the largest public relations battle they have ever faced.
To put this problem in perspective, let’s step into the shoes of a prospective donor, one whose net-worth floats around a couple billion dollars depending on how his portfolio is doing on that particular day. Let’s call him Daniel.
Daniel wakes up one morning and checks his stock portfolio to find that his shares in Encana have just doubled. Daniel is already an incredibly rich man, so this newfound $60 million isn’t going make or break his bank account. Because Daniel knows it will look good, he decides to donate his money to some deserving cause. Poor post-secondary students always elicit sympathy from the general public, so why not attach his name to a blossoming undergraduate program like Cumming did last year?
Daniel now faces a dilemma. He wants to donate close to home here in Alberta, and he needs to decide if he will donate to the U of C or the University of Alberta. Of course, his objective is to donate to the school where his philanthropy will be seen in the best light possible.
If you were Daniel, where would you donate? To the university about to be publicly seen as the instigator of a multi-million dollar lawsuit with its own students? Or to the university that has a relatively untarnished record with their undergraduates? Daniel’s choice is an easy one, no matter who’s fault the lawsuit is.
Since this is your campus and your SU, ask yourself what you value more. Allowing 19-year-olds to decide if the walls of MacHall should be beige or light beige? Or the potential loss of millions of dollars of donations? If this legal battle continues, we might not see any shiny new buildings for a very long time.
Keean Bexte is a third-year natural sciences student. He writes a monthly column about Students’ Union politics called Committee of the Whole.