Edmonton

University of Alberta vice-president resigns over 'beefier barley' billboards

The University of Alberta's vice-president of university relations has resigned over the school's "beefier barley" billboards, which were slammed as promoting climate change.

'The research highlighted by the ad does not promote climate change as a benefit'

One of four University of Alberta billboards with the slogan "beefier barley" is displayed at 178 Street and 100A Avenue in west Edmonton on Sept. 26, 2019. (Axel Tardieu/Radio-Canada)

The University of Alberta's vice-president of university relations has resigned over the school's "beefier barley" billboards, which were slammed as promoting climate change.

"The messaging on the ad called the reputation of the University of Alberta and its extensive research on climate change into question," vice-president of university relations Jacqui Tam said in an announcement posted Sunday.

"As Vice-President (University Relations), I apologize for this and take responsibility. In the best interests of the institution, I am announcing my departure from the University of Alberta, effective immediately."

The "beefier barley" billboards, displayed at four locations in Edmonton and Calgary, read, "Climate change will boost Alberta's barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle."

The billboard is part of Truth Matters, a larger advertising campaign from the university, highlighting research "that tackles today's complex challenges, and to encourage discussion," Tam said in an earlier statement posted Thursday after concerns were raised by the public, students and faculty members. 

Climate protests

Posts on social media slammed the ad as a pro-climate change billboard from the U of A, also criticizing the timing of the billboards, as thousands of climate activists took to Edmonton's streets to join the Global Climate Strike on Friday. 

The billboard also caused concern among the university's faculty of science about the representation of scientific research. 

"It is unfortunate that the findings of a 2017 peer-reviewed scientific study have been taken out of context with a single statement on a billboard and framed to suggest support for climate change," wrote Dean of Science Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell in a statement Friday.

"There are risks associated with taking scientific results out of context, particularly in an age of science skepticism."

The university will pull the ad as soon as possible, Tam's statement said. 

Different opinions

University of Alberta president David Turpin said normal procedure was not followed in running the ad, which should've been vetted by the school's executive team.

"I'm pretty sure that would have never seen the light of day," Turpin said.

"I can understand why people interpreted it the way they did," Turpin said, adding "it would not have been an ad that, if I had seen, I would put forward.

"Jacqui is a person of such incredible integrity and such deep and strongly held values when she realized the implications of that decision she stood up, took full responsibility and tendered her resignation."

Turpin said he is aware that not everyone will agree with the school's decision to pull the ad, or on researchers seeking out benefits of climate change.

"One of the things that we have a huge number of people working on, is adaptation," Turpin said.

"Climate change is real, it's happening, and as a society we must adapt and we have some absolutely outstanding scholars doing just that. And that was the research that was being profiled," Turpin said.

"Unfortunately the way in which it was articulated led to some misunderstandings and misinterpretation."

Turpin could not confirm whether the ads will be replaced with new billboards as part of the campaign, but said the university will be reviewing its procedures.

About the Author

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is an associate producer and reporter at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or on Twitter @TandiwayK (https://twitter.com/TandiwayK).

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