Since the announcement on April 10 of the 13 honorary degrees that will be awarded at the 2018 University of Alberta spring convocation, some have expressed displeasure with the announcement that Dr. David Suzuki is one of those recipients.
We understand how important the oil and gas industry is to Alberta. We too are acutely aware of the anger and frustration with the current situation surrounding the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and the debate between advocates of energy development and advocates of environmental preservation. That debate is happening across the campuses of the University of Alberta, as it should be, and here too there are very divergent opinions on this issue. Our faculty and students conduct research towards solutions that achieve the goals of both economic development in the oil and gas industry, and environmental sustainability.
The conferral of an honorary degree by the University of Alberta is not a signal of institutional agreement with any individual perspective on a controversial issue; rather, it honours the contributions and full body of work of those who represent diverse backgrounds and fields of endeavour. In its 110-year history, the University of Alberta has awarded more than 750 honorary degrees to a group of worthy recipients whose viewpoints and areas of expertise range widely, but who, nevertheless, have made remarkable contributions to our society. Those recipients have included persons on both sides of the current debate, including leaders in the energy industry.
Dr. Suzuki is being awarded an honorary degree for the breadth of his accomplishments and leadership as a public educator in science. He was one of the first scientists to recognize that a democratic society required literacy in science to make informed decisions in an increasingly complex world, and that recognition has driven most of his subsequent career. He founded CBC’s Quirks and Quarks radio show devoted to science, and hosted CBC’s award-winning television series The Nature of Things.
Dr. Suzuki is also a Companion of the Order of Canada, our country’s highest honour; he has received honorary degrees from 25 universities in Canada, Australia and the United States; he won the McNeil Medal from the Royal Society of Canada; and he won the Right Livelihood Award, which is considered the alternative Nobel Prize.
Dr. Suzuki’s credentials, body of work and career as a public intellectual are well established and make him a worthy recipient of an honorary degree. While we recognize that certain of Dr. Suzuki’s perspectives on the current debate between economic development and environmental sustainability are themselves a subject of debate, as an institution of higher learning, the university is committed to the expression of, exposure to and debate of diverse points of view.