COMMENTARY || Energy industry must not be allowed to bully universities

UAlberta must resist demands to rescind honorary doctorate to David Suzuki, say signatories to open letter.

Despite recent media attention to the contrary, there is broad support at the University of Alberta, and among alumni and Albertans, for the honorary doctorate being granted to David Suzuki for his lifetime achievements and contributions to Canadian society.

Since the U of A announced that Suzuki would be among 13 recipients of honorary doctorates to be awarded at convocation ceremonies this spring, several economists have tweeted their disapproval of this decision. They take offence at some of Suzuki's characterizations of economics.

More recently, the dean of engineering at the U of A and business people with connections to the oil and gas industry have called for the award to be rescinded because of Suzuki's view that expansion of bitumen extraction conflicts with efforts to rein in climate change.

We are sorry to see Suzuki's contributions to our country belittled in the reporting of Postmedia on a selection of the Twitter response to his award. The language used in this media outlet's coverage clearly aims to paint Suzuki as negatively as possible, perhaps because of his vocal opposition to further expansion of fossil-fuel extraction and exports that contribute to the global crisis of climate change. It is all the more important that a university located in the heart of Canada's oil and gas extractive sector should uphold the principle of "expression of, exposure to and debate of diverse points of view."

While we agree that criticisms of various schools of thought should be grounded in a reasonable knowledge of these schools' concepts and assumptions, we note that there are many knowledge chasms between sciences and social sciences and humanities that need to be bridged through more dialogue. In other words, economists are not alone in feeling that their discipline is misunderstood in various ways. To call for the awarding of the degree to be rescinded for this reason is, however, unwarranted.

As the university has explained, Suzuki is receiving the honour in recognition of his work to spread scientific literacy, appreciation of nature, and knowledge of the deep ecological crises threatening life on the planet. This is critically important work.

In many ways, Suzuki's understanding of the ecological destruction wrought by the dominant model of economic development has led him to question the wisdom of this model. Many Albertans-including university alumni-share Suzuki's belief that this model is destroying our life-support systems, as well as his sense of urgency about the need to replace it. Indeed, many Albertans are already invested in futures that do not rely on provincial exports of crude oil.

In addition to the leadership Suzuki has provided over decades with regard to the advancement of environmental and Indigenous knowledges and the need for environmental regulation, he has brought attention to Canada's history of racism as a third-generation Japanese Canadian. In 1942, at six years of age, he was interned with his family for the duration of the Second World War, one of 22,000 Japanese Canadians who lost their homes, businesses and liberty. In relating what he calls "one of the shoddiest chapters in the tortuous history of democracy in North America," Suzuki has helped to educate Canadians about the potential for racialized injustice that calls for our constant vigilance.

The demand by the dean of engineering and certain donors to the university that the offer to Suzuki of the honorary doctorate be rescinded amounts to a campaign-using threats of de-funding-to bend a public institution to the will of a private interest. The oil and gas industry may, for now, be an important source of revenue for the provincial government, but this does not entitle it to threaten and bully the universities or Albertans.

We, the signatories to this letter, agree that the University of Alberta must resist demands that it collaborate in the suppression of critical perspectives that-however unpopular in some circles-are essential to democratic debate about our collective future.

Laurie Adkin is a professor of political science at the University of Alberta. She is among 109 signatories from the University of Alberta and other universities to this guest column, which originally appeared April 27 in the Edmonton Journal.

  1. Laurie Adkin, Professor, Political Science & Environmental Studies
  2. Adam Gaudry, Professor, Political Science and Faculty of Native Studies
  3. Alexandre Da Costa, Professor, Educational Policy Studies
  4. Alison Murray, Professor, Biological Sciences
  5. Aloys Fleischmann, GRA, PhD Candidate, English and Film Studies
  6. Andie Palmer, Associate Professor & Associate Chair, Anthropology
  7. Anthony Goertz, Graduate student, Women's and Gender Studies
  8. Beau Coleman, Associate Professor, Department of Drama
  9. Carolyn Sale, Professor, English and Film Studies
  10. Cecily Devereux, Professor, English and Film Studies
  11. Chloe Taylor, Professor, Women's and Gender Studies
  12. Daniel Walker, Graduate Student, Art and Design
  13. Daniella Marchand, Alumna, Political Science & Women's and Gender Studies
  14. David Hik, Professor, Biological Sciences
  15. David Lewkowich, Professor, Secondary Education, Faculty of Education
  16. David Schindler, Professor Emeritus, Biological Sciences
  17. Dax D'Orazio, PhD Candidate, Political Science
  18. Debra Davidson, Professor, Resource Economics and Rural Sociology
  19. Dia Da Costa, Professor, Educational Policy Studies
  20. Greg King, Professor, Science, Augustana Faculty
  21. Esther Rosario, Doctoral student, Philosophy
  22. Eva Bogdan, PhD Candidate, Sociology
  23. Felice Lifshitz, Professor, Women's and Gender Studies and Religious Studies
  24. Glen Hvenegaard, Professor, Environmental Science and Geography,​ Augustana Faculty
  25. Heather Proctor, Professor, Biological Sciences
  26. Ian Urquhart, Professor, Political Science
  27. Iman Mersal, Professor, Modern Languages and Comparative Literature
  28. Imre Szeman, Professor, English and Film Studies
  29. Ingo Brigandt, Professor, CRC in Philosophy of Biology
  30. Jaimie Baron, Professor, English and Film Studies
  31. Janet Wesselius, Professor, Philosophy, Augustana Campus
  32. Janice Williamson, Professor, English & Film Studies
  33. Janine Brodie, Professor, Political Science
  34. Jaymie Heilman, Professor, History and Classics
  35. Jennifer Welchman, Professor, Philosophy
  36. Jessie Beier, PhD Student & Instructor, Secondary Education, Faculty of Education
  37. Joan Greer, Professor, Art and Design
  38. John Considine, Professor, English and Film Studies
  39. John England, FRSC Professor, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences
  40. Judith A. Garber, Professor, Political Science
  41. Judy Davidson, Professor, Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation
  42. Julie Rak, Professor, English and Film Studies
  43. Ken Caine, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Alberta
  44. Kim TallBear, Professor, Faculty of Native Studies
  45. Lars K. Hallstrom, Professor, Rural Sociology, Augustana Faculty
  46. Lee Foote, Professor, Renewable Resources, ALES
  47. Liza Piper, Professor, History & Classics
  48. Lynette Shultz, Professor, Educational Policy Studies
  49. Marie-Eve Morin, Professor, Philosophy
  50. Mark Boyce, Professor, Biological Sciences
  51. Mark Nuttall, Professor, Anthropology
  52. Mark Simpson, Professor, English & Film Studies
  53. Martin Sharp, Professor, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences
  54. Suzanne Bayley, Professor Emerita, Biological Sciences
  55. Malinda Smith, Professor, Political Science
  56. Megan Dean, U of A alumna
  57. Michael Caldwell, Professor and Chair, Biological Sciences
  58. Michael Frishkopf, Professor, Music
  59. Natalie Loveless, Professor, Art and Design
  60. Paige Gorsak, Graduate student, Women's and Gender Studies
  61. Pearl Ann Reichwein, Associate Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation
  62. Peter W. Sinnema, Professor and Chair, English and Film Studies
  63. Ricardo Acuña, Academic Staff and BA 1992
  64. Richard Rachubinski, Professor & Chair, Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry
  65. Richard Westerman, Professor, Sociology
  66. Rob Aitken, Professor, Political Science
  67. Robert Raincock, Undergraduate student, Faculty of Education
  68. Robin Walker, BSc '69, MSc '79
  69. Sally Leys, Professor, Biological Sciences
  70. Sandra Rein, Professor, Political Studies, Augustana Faculty
  71. Sara Dorow, Professor, Sociology
  72. Scott Smallwood, Professor, Music
  73. Sheena Wilson, Professor, Faculty Saint-Jean
  74. Shelagh Campbell, Professor Emerita, Biological Sciences
  75. Sourayan Mookerjea, Professor, Sociology
  76. Stefan Dehod, Graduate student, Women's and Gender Studies
  77. Stephanie Jonsson, Technical staff, Art and Design (Sculpture)
  78. Stephen Slemon, Professor Emeritus, English & Film Studies
  79. Susan Smith, Professor, History and Classics
  80. Sylvia Brown, Professor, English and Film Studies
  81. Tania Bubela, Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health
  82. Tanya Harnett, Professor, Art and Design and Faculty of Native Studies
  83. Vera Caine, Professor and CIHR Investigator, Faculty of Nursing
  84. William Beard, Professor, English and Film Studies
  85. Zac Robinson, Professor, Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation
  86. Nancy Van Styvendale, Professor, Faculty of Native Studies
  87. Shannon Stunden Bower, Professor, History and Classics
  88. Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez, Professor, Political Science
  89. Anita Dey-Nuttall, PhD, Associate Director, UAlberta North
  90. Tracy Bear, Professor, Faculty of Native Studies and Dept. of Women's & Gender Studies
  91. Rob Shields, Henry Marshall Tory Chair and Professor, City Region Studies Centre, Extension/Arts
  92. Makere Stewart-Harawira, Professor, Educational Policy Studies
  93. Amy Kaler, Professor, Sociology and Adjunct Professor, Division of Community Engagement, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry
  94. Nathan Kowalsky, Professor, Philosophy, St. Joseph's College & Science, Technology and Society, Interdisciplinary Studies
  95. Emily R. Douglas, Alumna, Philosophy
  96. Nisha Nath, PhD, Instructor, Political Science
  97. Beth Capper, Professor, English and Film Studies
  98. Eddy Kent, Professor, English and Film Studies
  99. Elizabeth Boone, Professor, Art and Design
  100. Terri Tomsky, Professor, English and Film Studies
  101. Kisha Supernant, Professor, Anthropology
  102. Katherine Binhammer, Professor, English and Film Studies
  103. Steven Harris Professor, Art and Design
  104. Beth Capper, Instructor, English and 'film Studies
  105. Cathryn van Kessel, Professor, Secondary Education

Signatories from other institutions

  1. Megan Delehanty, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary
  2. Hasana Sharp, Associate Professor of Philosophy, McGill University
  3. Timothy Harvie, Professor, Philosophy and Ethics, St. Mary's University, Calgary
  4. Anthony Bruno, Asst. Professor, Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London