Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On academic freedom

Jim Balsillie has an op-ed in the Globe today in the wake of the rejection by York University of a major investment by him of about $30 million that was to be matched by the province: "Academic freedom at York University? More like academic myopia." Here's what he says was his condition on the deal:
Regarding Osgoode Hall, our agenda was on the table. Our interest was that York/CIGI become a global centre of excellence in international laws of trade and finance, intellectual property and the environment. For accountability, we needed an undertaking that the research would be in those domains. That was the sole condition. As a donor, I think that was a fair expectation.
Two Osgoode academics wrote an op-ed on the weekend, "York University did the right thing in cancelling CIGI deal," which is a very different read in terms of the strings attached:
First, the deal obliged York to report regularly to the Centre for International Governance Innovation on curriculum and other academic programming matters. York had to consider the centre’s advice before making decisions on these matters. This interference in academic planning was removed by the Osgoode protocol. York administrators allowed it back in.

Second, York resurrected the Centre for International Governance Innovation’s veto over the program’s annual budget, which had been removed by the Osgoode protocol. This veto gave the Centre for International Governance Innovation the power to cut off all funding, public and private, under the program.

Third, the Centre for International Governance Innovation was given alarming rights regarding the appointment, renewal, and termination of faculty, and individual research plans. Language in protocols signed by the centre and York failed to remove these rights in clear terms.

Fourth, the deal relied on a stunted definition of academic freedom, suggesting that the Centre for International Governance Innovation wished to influence teaching and service activities.

Fifth, the deal had a one-sided approach to enforcement. York’s obligations in the original agreement, which gave the Centre for International Governance Innovation an extensive role in academic affairs, were enforceable by binding arbitration. On the other hand, the governance innovation centre’s commitments to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy were not subject to any enforcement mechanism.

Sixth, the deal would have allowed secret amendments by the Centre for International Governance Innovation and York. The Osgoode protocol precluded this and required the relevant documents to be made public. These provisions were not accepted.
Beyond the details, duelling op-eds within days of each other probably tells you why this arrangement just wasn't going to work out.

The professors add:
Governments should not funnel taxpayer money through gatekeepers that are not publicly accountable and whose role jeopardizes academic freedom and institutional autonomy. If allowed to proceed elsewhere, this model will corrode public confidence in universities.

Private funders must recognize that there are important limits to what they can request in exchange for money. Serious academic institutions must ensure that the limits are respected.
That may be "old-think" according to Balsillie, others would call it the underpinnings of the Canadian public university system.