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U of A engineering dean 'betrayed' by decision to award honorary degree to David Suzuki

The dean of the University of Alberta's faculty of engineering is blasting the school for its decision to award an honorary degree to David Suzuki.

Fraser Forbes says university now needs to regain Albertans' trust

The dean of the University of Alberta's faculty of engineering is blasting the school for its decision to award an honorary degree to David Suzuki.

Fraser Forbes avoids naming the well-known environmentalist in the letter posted on the faculty's web page, but says the move has created the "worst crisis" the university has faced in over 30 years. 

"It truly saddens me to know that many of you are, as am I, left feeling that one of Alberta's most favoured children, the University of Alberta, has betrayed you by choosing to confer this honorary degree," the professor said in the letter. 

"That the university has aggrieved Albertans with a single decision, demonstrates, I believe, that our university has become, certainly in this process, too disconnected from the people that we are meant to serve."

Neither Forbes, nor a spokesperson for the university, could be reached for comment Monday.

Suzuki is to be awarded an honorary doctor of science degree on June 7. The university has been heavily criticized for its decision to award him the degree.

Andrew Leach, the architect of Alberta's climate change plan and an economics professor at the university, tweeted his displeasure at the announcement, saying he's glad his economics students will have their convocation 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," Leach wrote. "Not a chance."

The university defended its decision last week. In a statement, it said an honorary degree doesn't necessarily mean the institution agrees with the recipient, but rather recognizes his or her contributions and full body of work.

It truly saddens me to know that many of you are, as am I, left feeling that one of Alberta's most favoured children, the University of Alberta, has betrayed you by choosing to confer this honorary degree.- Fraser Forbes

In his letter to the faculty, Forbes said he is not surprised by the backlash and suggests the choice of who is awarded an honorary degree is fundamentally flawed.

He said he has heard that the decision has left supporters of the university and the engineering community feeling "hurt and devalued."

Honorary degree recipients are selected by the university's senate, he said, and faculties — including engineering — are not consulted with or invited to be part of the selection process. 

Forbes says the university must intensify advocacy for Alberta's industrial sectors, continue providing "exceptional" education in engineering, and become a leading voice in ensuring everyone understands the role energy and resource industries play in society.

"It is critically important that our voice — the Engineering voice, the voice of Alberta's industrial sectors, including energy and natural resources — is given a place at the table of the key decision-making bodies of our university," Forbes writes.

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