Growing risks in universities accepting private money

Some took the money, others rejected it, one rolled the dice and lost

TRU’s Christopher Seguin at the announcement of the Memorandum of Understanding between TRU and Kinder Morgan. (Kinder Morgan)

TRU’s Christopher Seguin at the announcement of the Memorandum of Understanding between TRU and Kinder Morgan. (Kinder Morgan)

The University of Calgary is in turmoil over the toppling of a $2.25-million pledge from Enbridge, with calls for investigations and administrator resignations abound. The deal would have meant the creation of the Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability, but questions over academic freedom and credibility emerged along the way, and now accusations of heavy-handed corporate influence plague the school.

On April 7, TRU became the first post-secondary institution to sign a memorandum of understanding with pipeline company Kinder Morgan. The pact stipulates that if the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is approved, TRU will receive $500,000 to be dispensed as student awards. Over the course of the 20-year agreement, trades would receive $200,000, the faculty of social work $100,000, research would receive $100,000 and the faculty of science another $100,000.

On June 26, Kwantlen Polytechnic University inked a similar deal for $300,000. But after criticism emerged, including opposition from local First Nations groups, KPU decided to back out of the deal in late October.

A key part of the opposition came from the Kwantlen Student Association, KPU’s student union.

“KPU’s acceptance of this money amounts to a tacit endorsement of the pipeline project. Projects like this serve to accelerate climate change and cannot be allowed to move forward,” said union VP external Alex McGowan in a press release.

At the University of the Fraser Valley, despite meeting with Kinder Morgan, it was unclear whether or not a deal was made. Nonetheless, the meeting brought about a response from the school’s student union. While union president Thomas Davies stopped short of outright opposing the deal, he called for the university to fall back on its principle of being apolitical and to consult its stakeholders, including local First Nations.

“Donations to universities should not be politically or economically motivated, as is the case with Kinder Morgan, but represent an honest appreciation of the ideals and values of the institution and of education itself,” Davies wrote in a July 8 open letter to UFV admin.

Kinder Morgan’s offer also failed to take hold in Chilliwack, where city council rejected $800,000 from the company in May on the same condition – approval of its Trans Mountain pipeline. Kinder Morgan promised it would pay for a substantial amount of a $1-million footbridge project in the city. Critics called it a bribe and city council decided it wasn’t worth it.

The City of Kamloops also signed an agreement with Kinder Morgan for $700,000 on Feb. 26.

While TRUSU has been silent about the university’s deal with Kinder Morgan, there are critics at the school, including environmental studies professor Michael Mehta, who called the deal “embarrassing” in an April 8 interview with CBC Kamloops.

On Nov. 20, a CBC article reported that Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project could now cost as much as $6.8 billion, up from the $5.4 billion previously estimated. All of this while the price of crude oil sits at around $40 USD per barrel.

With questions over academic freedom arising as a result of Calgary’s deal with Enbridge and other universities dropping out out of Kinder Morgan’s deal, will TRU be the first in and last out, or will it keep its head down and try to dodge controversy for a relatively modest payout delivered over 20 years?