University of Calgary warns faculty about CAUT investigation

The University of Calgary is warning its academic staff to beware of an investigation by the organization that represents university teachers across the country.

Canadian Association of University Teachers examining U of C's relationship with Enbridge

Provost Dru Marshall warns academic staff 'your privacy may not be protected by CAUT.' (CBC)

The University of Calgary is warning its academic staff to beware of an investigation by the organization that represents university teachers across the country.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) will arrive on campus next week to speak with faculty about the U of C's relationship with Enbridge following a CBC investigation last fall. CAUT will also examine broader issues of conflict of interest and donor policies at the university. 

Universities are taking a much more aggressive stance against us. I think it is because our investigations matter- David Robinson, CAUT

The investigation was announced months ago but in recent weeks university administration sent an email to all academic staff warning them about CAUT. In particular the email states CAUT has no official standing on campus, university staff have no obligation to participate in the investigation and CAUT will not protect a professor's privacy.

"Those of you who choose to participate have the right to express your opinions," wrote provost Dru Marshall in the March 18 email, obtained by CBC. "You are reminded that your privacy may not be protected by CAUT and, if you provide sensitive or confidential information to CAUT, that confidentiality may not be protected."

CAUT admits it does not have the power to compel people to participate in its investigation however the group rejects the notion it would not keep information private, especially considering CAUT represents university teachers across the country. 
CAUT executive director David Robinson says the U of C's email to staff is 'odd' because the investigative committee 'would absolutely respect anyone who would want it to be confidential.' (CBC)

"I was a bit concerned about her references to confidentiality and privacy, which a reasonable person might interpret as being intimidating or dissuading people from coming forward," said David Robinson, the executive director of CAUT, in an interview.

The CAUT committee which will conduct next week's investigation sent a response to faculty disagreeing with the provost and reassuring academic staff about the investigation.

"First of all, if someone comes forward with information and asks to keep it confidential, the committee will respect that," said Robinson. "Second of all this is a public institution, we're not talking about nuclear secrets here. This is a routine public investigation." 

Marshall said she did not intend the email to be a warning or to deter faculty from taking part in the external investigation.

"All I am doing is reminding them that that would be the context under which they would be participating," said Marshall in an interview. "It was to provide information, to provide context and to let them know they can participate but they are not obliged to do so."

In particular, she wanted faculty to know the university had already conducted its probe into the matter.

Marshall called the CAUT investigation unnecessary and she is not worried what it may uncover. She would not say why CAUT would not respect the privacy of staff, other than to say the group is not bound by U of C policy.

On Thursday afternoon, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon was supposed to speak with reporters following a speech at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce event, however, it was abruptly cancelled and journalists were told she had to be "whisked off on an urgent matter."

Cannon resignation

Cannon resigned from her role as independent director of the Enbridge Income Fund last fall following a CBC investigation into the university's relationship with pipeline company Enbridge. 
President Elizabeth Cannon says there's been 'learnings' from the experience with the Enbridge Centre. (CBC)

The CBC investigation included complaints from professors and emails obtained through a freedom of information request. The investigation suggested a pattern of corporate influence by Enbridge and the dismissed concerns about academic independence by professors.

Beyond naming rights for a new research centre on campus the emails show Enbridge sought to influence board memberships, staffing and the type of students who would be considered for awards.

The University of Calgary subsequently launched its own review which concluded there were no breaches of university policies or procedures in the institution's relationship with Enbridge.

CAUT says its investigation will be much broader.

Examining the rules

"The terms of reference of the university's internal investigation was to see whether or not the university's policies were violated," said Robinson. "Our investigation is also going to look at whether or not any of those policies are actually appropriate and whether they deal appropriately with issues of donations, outside external influence, and whether academic freedom and academic integrity is adequately protected within the university."

CAUT is expected to publish its findings in the next few months. Universities are not compelled to act on any possible recommendations, although the group says most institutions often will make changes.

"Universities are taking a much more aggressive stance against us. I think it is because our investigations matter," said Robinson. "They potentially expose things that powerful people would rather keep quiet."

Enbridge and the U of C have said they value academic freedom and they have both denied the company attempted to influence the research centre's operations or staffing choices. 

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