New Brunswick

Arthur Irving's honorary degree denounced by U de M student federation

Students at the Université de Moncton are angry about the honorary degree given to Arthur Irving, saying his company, Irving Oil, causes environmental damage and contributes to climate change.

Billionaire owner of Irving Oil received an honorary doctorate in business administration

The student federation at the Université de Moncton says Irving Oil owner Arthur Irving shoudn't have received an honorary degree. (Université de Moncton)

Arthur Irving's honorary doctorate in business from the Université de Moncton has angered the student federation, which says it should be taken back. 

The university announced last week that it gave Irving, the owner of Irving Oil, an honorary degree on Dec. 3 to recognize his "outstanding contributions to the field of business administration."

Irving Oil's announcement on social media also referred to contributions to environmental sustainability and community investment in New Brunswick.

The student federation says the university is being hypocritical and complains of a lack of transparency and consultation in the decision-making. 

The university announced Irving's degree on social media. (Université de Moncton/Facebook)

"We believe that this decision sends the wrong message to our students, but also our community," said Mathilde Thériault, the president the federation.

"It is said the person who receives this honorary doctorate is considered to be a model for students. But quite frankly, we see him more as a the complete opposite."

Thériault cited Irving Oil's impact on climate change, which she said stands in opposition to the university's claims of committing to tackle climate change.  

Mathilde Thériault is the president of the student federation at the Université de Moncton. (Mathilde Thériault/Facebook)

Irving Oil, the province's largest greenhouse gas emitter, partnered in August with TC Energy to reduce emissions from the Saint John refinery.

But the refinery has been responsible for one-quarter of all emissions in New Brunswick and sent 2.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019.

"Mr. Irving, as successful as a businessman he may be, his activities are detrimental to the environment and the future of our province," said Thériault.

"We are constantly told by the university that they want to contribute to fight for climate change, but in nominating Mr.Irving and giving him this honorary doctorate. … It makes us question the sincerity of that statement and if they really want to contribute at all to fight climate change."

The federation is also concerned that the process of choosing who should get an honorary degree is partly done behind closed doors.  

"It's super confidential and we don't have access to anything that's been done behind the doors," she said.

University spokesperson Pascale Paulin said the decision was made by the academic senate, and would have had the support of at least two-thirds of voting members. (CBC)

In an emailed response to CBC, university spokesperson Pascale Paulin said the academic senate makes the decision. Names put forward for an honorary degree must receive support from two-thirds of the voting members to be successful.

The senate is composed of 41 voting members, including students, professors and administrators. Five students are voting members of the senate.

Paulin noted that awards, honorary degrees and emeritus degrees are confidential at the time they're being reviewed by an honours committee, which then makes recommendations to the senate.

As for U de M's commitment to reducing harm to the environment, Paulin said, "Our president is bringing the environmental issues and climate changes to each decision table, making sure it is part of every decision processes."

But Thériault said the federation wants the decision to honour Irving degree reversed.

"We want the Université de Moncton to cease immediately its relationship with the Irvings. This will act positively to fight for climate change."

Clarifications

  • In a previous version of this story, Université de Moncton spokesperson Pascale Paulin incorrectly said that two professors are leading a climate-change action plan on behalf of the university. That reference has been removed.
    Dec 15, 2021 3:32 PM AT

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