Calgary

U of C's relationship with Enbridge slammed by faculty associations

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon's six-figure compensation from the Enbridge Income Fund is "appalling," says the head of the faculty association — especially in light of internal documents suggesting a pattern of apparent attempts by Enbridge to influence university operations.

Sandra Hoenle, head of University of Calgary faculty association, calls situation 'appalling'

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon's six-figure compensation from the Enbridge Income Fund has come under fire from the head of the post-secondary institution's faculty association. (CBC)

University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon's six-figure compensation from the Enbridge Income Fund is "appalling," says the head of the faculty association — especially in light of internal documents suggesting a pattern of apparent attempts by Enbridge to influence university operations.

"There is definitely a perception that this is a conflict of interest," Sandra Hoenle said in response to a CBC News investigation into the relationship between the oil giant and the post-secondary institution.

Hoenle said she is "very concerned" about academic freedom at the university, given the "alarming" revelations in internal documents obtained by CBC News under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.

Those documents suggest that, beyond naming rights in exchange for a $2.25-million pledge, Enbridge sought to influence choices over board memberships, staffing and student awards at the U of C's Haskayne School of Business. 

"Donations really cannot come with strings attached that affect research or the focus of a research centre or student awards and academic partnerships," Hoenle said.

Cannon says Enbridge didn't influence decision making

The U of C and Enbridge both deny the company had any influence over the university's operations or decision making.

Cannon said the company was in close contact with university officials and offered its opinions, but added that doesn't mean it actually steered any actions.

People can express concern or ideas, but at the end of the day, you have to be very clear with external partners.... You can be a patient listener but that doesn't mean it influences the decisions you make.- University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon

"People can express concern or ideas, but at the end of the day, you have to be very clear with external partners, regardless of whether they are providing financial support or otherwise, that decisions remain within the University of Calgary," Cannon said.

"You can be a patient listener but that doesn't mean it influences the decisions you make."

Cannon also noted no professors have filed formal complaints alleging infringement on academic freedom.

Cannon has previously disclosed publicly that she is an independent director of Enbridge Income Fund Holdings, a position she has held since late 2010, but says she keeps that separate from her university role.

Last year, her compensation for that board position amounted to $130,500.

Specific complaint process

David Robinson with the Canadian Association of University Teachers wants the U of C to investigate its relationship with Enbridge.

"I'm not surprised when a company tries to influence the program," Robinson said.

"What does shock me, and what does surprise me, is when our university administrations so willingly give up their own independence and integrity for the lure of a little bit of money," he added.

David Robinson with the Canadian Association of University Teachers wants the U of C to investigate its relationship with Enbridge 0:52

Robinson said agreements between universities and private sponsors, in general, need to include a process to investigate apparent conflicts of interest.

"If there are allegations that the company or the outside funder is infringing on academic freedom or the academic rights of faculty members, there should be a procedure in place to investigate that in a fair, open and honest way," he said.

"In this case it wasn't," he added. "The [informal] complaints seem to have been dismissed, and I think that really speaks volumes to the lack of integrity of the administration, not to take these things seriously."

Cannon's compensation

Cannon's compensation from her board role with the Enbridge Income Fund is separate from her university salary.

Her university compensation includes $480,000 in base salary, plus up to 20 per cent in incentive pay, plus benefits, a pension plan, a $16,000 annual car allowance, a $15,000 "executive and professional allowance", along with six weeks of paid vacation, according to her published contract.

Even if Cannon's dual roles are kept completely separate, Hoenle said the "optics of that are pretty terrible," given the revelations about Enbridge's involvement with the Haskayne School.

"It's appalling that she receives personal compensation for this [board of directors role], above and beyond her substantial salary from the university," Hoenle said.

"What she receives just for sitting on this board, on top of her salary  … could pay for 20 courses taught by sessional instructors."

For its part, Enbridge says it values academic independence and didn't attempt to influence the centre's operations or staffing choices. The company told the CBC it made the donation without any strings attached and the partnership in Michigan was not about publicity. 

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