Questions continue over U of C energy research centre

Questions continue to be raised about the operation of the Institute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary.

Concerns over research quality of Institute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy

The Alberta Liberal Party is calling for an investigation into the operation of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary. (CBC)

Questions continue to be raised about the operation of the Institute of Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy at the University of Calgary.

On Monday the former director of a research group within the institute, David Keith, called it a failure because of poor management and too much influence from corporate donors.

The Alberta Liberal Party is calling for an investigation into Keith's allegations, but leader Raj Sherman says the underlying problem is a lack of funding from the provincial government.

"Our academic institutions, our universities are being forced to go to private industry to run their operations and with that closeness … it brings into question the integrity and independence of all the wonderful work they're doing," said Sherman.

Jim Turk, from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, says universities must set clear guidelines when accepting corporate money for research.

"It's vital that the academics within the university have a controlling say over all academic matters. That is, how the research funds are to be allocated, the right to publish the findings and the right to determine scientifically what directions are taken."

The Association is conducting a study about how research agreements are handled at many Canadian institutions.

"The unique character of university research is that the public can be assured that it's carefully done, that it looks at sort of all angles and all sides," says Turk.

"The University of Calgary has issued a statement saying it is confident the institute is is delivering on its mandate to develop cost-effective solutions to the environmental challenges of energy production and use.

U of C issues statement

On Wednesay, the university issued a written statement from president Elizabeth Cannon.

"The University of Calgary believes in and supports the academic integrity and independence of scholarly inquiry that is the foundation and core value of great universities.  

Balancing the views and interests of the academy, industry, government and non-governmental groups is not always easy, and often there are conflicts and disagreements.  We believe that a university offers a valuable forum for debate, collaboration, and ultimately, ground-breaking research to address the significant challenges facing our society and our world. 

The University of Calgary’s belief in independent scholarly inquiry and academic freedom guides us when there are conflicts. The university’s executive is committed to continuous improvement in academic and administrative leadership and management.   The University of Calgary is moving forward with an ambitious agenda to become one of Canada’s top five research universities.  Our Eyes High strategy was launched at the end of September 2011 after extensive consultation with faculty, staff and students.  During the 2011 – 2012 academic year, with extensive input and consultation from the academy, the university developed an Academic Plan and a Strategic Research Plan. 

The Strategic Research Plan identified six themes, one of which is "Energy Innovations for Today and Tomorrow."  

Beginning in 2012, the university began developing an interdisciplinary energy research strategy with extensive input from, and consultation with, the internal academic community, the energy industry and government. The strategy builds on existing research strength at the university, led by more than 200 researchers in a wide range of disciplines, including science, engineering, law, economics, health, management and public policy.

An independent panel of international academic experts will be asked to review the strategy to ensure that it is of the highest calibre and at a global level.   Effective September 1, 2011, David Keith, a respected academic and researcher, resigned from the University of Calgary. He stepped down from his full-time professorship and accepted an appointment with Harvard University in applied physics and public policy.

He remains an adjunct professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Calgary, and is a visiting fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE).   On November 15, 2012, the University announced that ISEEE was moving into the Faculty of Science and that its future direction would be determined within the context of the emerging energy research strategy.

While ISEEE has had successes, there have also been challenges.  We believe that more closely aligning the activities of ISEEE with our Energy Research Strategy will lead to greater success for all involved.   All of us — academics, industry, government, NGOs, and community leaders — have a role to play in addressing societal challenges. 

This requires collaboration and mutual respect. The University of Calgary values the support of our many industry partners, including Enbridge.  The Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability in the Haskayne School of Business is designed as an incubator for the research and development of business practices that account for social, environmental, and economic considerations. We are proud to partner with Enbridge on this important initiative. 

The Centre’s terms of reference make it clear that it will at all times operate within the mandate of the university for independent scholarly inquiry and academic freedom.   We believe that the University of Calgary can create neutral ground for impactful and relevant research and education.  We welcome all perspectives, including constructive criticism, to help us better deliver on this commitment to our students, faculty, staff and all Albertans," the statement reads.


  • On Monday and Tuesday, CBC Radio Current Affairs, Radio News and in Calgary reported a story involving climate researcher David Keith. Keith had levelled criticism at the University of Calgary and the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE). He accused university officials of mismanagement and pandering to private interests. We had reported that David Keith is the "head" of the ISEEE. In fact, David Keith was the director of ISEEE's Energy and Environmental Systems Group, an interdisciplinary research group within ISEEE.
    Sep 12, 2013 10:02 PM MT