British Columbia

One of UBC's biggest donors goes to court in effort to ensure his name appears on all law-school degrees

One of the most prominent donors to the University of British Columbia is taking the school to court, saying the institution isn't holding up its end of the deal they struck when he he made a historic donation to its law school.

Peter A. Allard says he wants 'reasonable' reference to his name on degrees after $30M donation

Peter A. Allard gave $30 million to the university on a number of agreed terms, including that degrees granted by the Faculty of Law would have Allard's name on them. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One of the most prominent donors to the University of British Columbia (UBC) is taking the school to court, saying the institution isn't holding up its end of the deal struck when he made a historic donation to its law school.

Peter A. Allard gave $30 million to the university on a number of agreed terms five years ago. One of those terms said degrees granted by the Faculty of Law would have Allard's name printed somewhere on the parchment. 

The problem is, not all degrees from the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC are granted by that particular faculty — which means some law degrees from the school haven't included the name Peter A. Allard for years.

After years of back and forth with the university over the issue, Allard has now filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court. He's still looking to have his name printed, somewhere, somehow, on all degrees awarded to students who graduate from the school named in his honour.

In a statement Monday, UBC said it has honoured the agreement with Allard and "continues to be grateful" for his gift.

A 'reasonable' reference

Allard's name has become synonymous with UBC law. The law school itself is named in Allard's honour, its main building is called Allard Hall and the prestigious Allard Prize for International Integrity was administered at the school for years.

UBC has said Allard's 2014 donation was the largest gift ever to a Canadian law school.

The university began printing degrees from its Juris Doctor (JD) program with Allard's name after the donation was made. The JD program is the first level of law study at UBC.

Allard contacted the school after noticing his name missing from higher-level graduate degrees, like master of laws and PhD, in 2016. The petition said the alumnus and family foundation asked for a "reasonable" reference to his name on the graduate certificates.

The Allard Hall building at the University of British Columbia. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The issue is that only JD degrees are granted by the Faculty of Law — the faculty included in the 2014 donation agreement. Graduate degrees, on the other hand, are granted by a different division: the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Allard didn't know that when he made his agreement in 2014. Court documents said he was "stunned" when he found out.

The petition said UBC President Santa J. Ono wrote a letter to Allard about the issue on April 5, 2017. Documents say Ono wrote that the university "would not be pursuing" the issue about his name any further, as the postgraduate faculty had jurisdiction over graduate degrees.

Portraits of Peter A. Allard inside Allard Hall. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The UBC statement Monday echoed Ono's explanation.

"Our understanding of the gift agreement with Mr. Allard was that degree certificates that previously bore the name Faculty of Law would bear the new name," read the statement from the university's lawyer, Hubert Lai. "[Masters and PhD] degree certificates never did bear the name of the Faculty of Law, and therefore they do not bear the new name."

"We have fully honoured the gift agreement," the statement added.

The majority of degree certificates granted at UBC are JDs. The university said around 200 students are expected to graduate with JDs next year, with 60 to 65 students earning master's degrees and another six completing PhDs.

Allard took the issue to the B.C. International Commercial Arbitration Centre after receiving Ono's letter. Allard and his foundation argued the university "failed or refused" to modify the 2014 agreement to address the graduate certificates.

The arbitration claim was dismissed.

Arbitrator Neil Wittmann found the UBC faculty who struck the deal with Allard didn't deliberately hide the faculty discrepancy, but "simply didn't think of it at the time."

The petition filed by Allard on Nov. 5 is asking the B.C. Supreme Court for the chance to appeal the arbitrator's decision, saying Wittmann erred in law when he made his decision.

Allard's longtime legal adviser, Geoff Lyster, said in an email last Friday that Allard preferred not to comment on the matter as it is before the courts and "the materials filed with the court speak for themselves."

Former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, who graduated from UBC with a law degree in 1976 before entering politics, said he thought Allard's request was inappropriate.

"It was offensive ... With the increasing encroachment of private money upon our private institutions, we are losing the independence of the academic institutions that we cherish in this country and I've had my fill of this," he said.

Dosanjh said UBC should refund Allard's money.

"If you want to maintain academic freedom and freedom of our educational institutions, we need to cough up public money. It may be difficult. It may be painful, but that's the answer. The answer is not to submit ourselves to the dictates of billionaires," the former premier said.

Lai said the university will submit its response to Allard's court application "in due course."

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.

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