Alberta university criticized for plan to bestow honorary degree on David Suzuki

The University of Alberta is being criticized for its decision to give David Suzuki an honorary degree.
The University of Alberta stands by its decision to give environmentalist David Suzuki an honourary degree.

The University of Alberta is being criticized for its decision to give David Suzuki an honorary degree.

Earlier this month, the university announced that the longtime environmentalist will be one of 13 people to receive the honour later this spring.

Andrew Leach, the architect of Alberta's climate change plan and an economics professor at the university, isn't pleased.

"He refers to economics as brain damage," Leach wrote on Twitter. "The @ualberta has 3 departments teaching economics. Is that really the type of public education that my university wants to reward with an honorary degree?"

Some in the oil and gas industry and others from the Opposition United Conservative Party were also critical of the decision on social media.

Suzuki wasn't available to comment Thursday, but his foundation sent out a statement.

"As Canada seeks to meet its Paris climate accord target and transition to a sustainable renewable energy future, the expansion of Canada's oilsands has become an extremely divisive subject — as we're seeing with the Kinder Morgan pipeline project," said chief executive Steve Cornish.

An honorary degree is not a blind endorsement of Suzuki's perspectives, he said.

"It's a tribute to Dr. Suzuki's incredible career as an awarded geneticist, broadcaster and author," said Cornish.

The university defended its decision to honour Suzuki.

"We understand how important the oil and gas industry is to Alberta," the school said in a statement. "We, too, are acutely aware of the anger and frustration with the current situation surrounding the Trans Mountain Pipeline."

The university said an honorary degree doesn't necessarily mean the institution agrees with the person, but rather recognizes his or her contributions and full body of work.

Suzuki is to receive the honorary doctor of science degree on June 7.

Leach, who declined an interview request, said on Twitter that he was glad his economics students would be convocating on another day.

"It saves me from a horrible decision I'd have to make: there's no way I'd share a stage with David Suzuki as he receives an honorary degree from @ualberta," he wrote. "Not a chance."