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University of Ottawa Independence for Sale to the Israeli Lobby

June 19th, 2011

Professor Denis Rancourt

Canadian universities have institutional independence guaranteed by a Supreme Court of Canada ruling. This independence from governments and corporations was explicitly granted to universities in order to protect the academic freedoms of its professors and students.

At the University of Ottaw this established institutional independence is used to subvert lawsuits from mistreated students, and to shield the university from sanctions related to its own violations of its professors' academic freedoms. Such is the perversion of legalese in the service of unprincipled administrations.

In addition, observers have been concerned about the influence of private corporate donations; which are never made transparently and which go into the protected slush fund known as "University of Ottawa Foundation".

This becomes of direct concern when the private donations are overtly tied to specific research chairs, to new research themes, or to newly tailored academic programs.

This is why university senate (the highest institutional authority on all academic matters) recently questioned the university administration's unilateral campaign to create a two-for-one graduate degree in law (LL.M.) and exchange program with the University of Haifa, Israel. (See all posts on this matter HERE.)

In addition to being an obvious degree inflation scheme ("two distinct LL.M. degrees after only one year of studies") -- which is becoming too common as a marketing device at the university -- the Haifa deal came with a tied scholarship thanks to "generous support" from the Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman Foundation.

It was therefore the duty of senate to examine any conditions tied to the Schwartz-Reisman scholarship that might harm academic integrity and institutional independence in view of any risks to academic freedom.

The only senator to act dutifully in this matter was student senator Joseph Hickey. His senate blog posts about the administration's Haifa campaign are HERE.

Hickey's research revealed that the Haifa two-for-one degree scheme was not born of an academic need expressed by students and professors via the university's collegial governance process. Instead, it was the result of an Israel Lobby organized and funded university president's trip to Israel in 2008 (June 24th to July 1st). President Allan Rock appears to have attempted to conceal this fact by vehemently and repeatedly stating "I was not in Israel in 2008 and I have never been to Haifa, Mr. Hickey". (LINK)

Hickey today (June 17th) made public his access to information (ATI) results (LINK) showing that former president Gilles Patry was the U of O president who went to Israel in 2008 and committed to the Haifa academic program long before it could be studied by senate.

More disturbingly, after much work at senate, Hickey has obtained the Terms of Reference for the Schwartz-Reisman "generous support". Hickey has posted the document HERE.

Although the document is written in legalese, it is clear that the Schwartz-Reisman Foundation has not provided an endowment but instead has only agreed to providing year to year payments of the scholarships, that can be stopped after any given year, subject to candidate approval by the Foundation, and that in a given year must be spent such as to "adhere as closely as possible to the [unstated] spirit of the fund and to the [again unstated] Schwartz/Reisman Foundation original intent."

Hickey continues to seek the denied ATI records that would clarify "the spirit of the fund" and the "original intent" but the university seems committed to preventing this transparency. (See index of almost eighty denied ATI records HERE.)

So there you have it. It seems unlikely (guaranteed) that many Palestinian students or any students critical of Israeli policies will be found qualified to receive this scholarship. This is an overt violation of student academic freedom.

Regarding the Haifa academic program scholarship, the university administration has effectively sold its statutory responsibility (University of Ottawa Act, 1965):

"[...] to further, in accordance with Christian principles, the intellectual, spiritual, moral, physical and social development of, as well as a community spirit among its undergraduates, graduates and teaching staff, and to promote the betterment of society [...]"

"The management, discipline and control of the University shall be free from the restrictions and control of any outside body [...] shall be based upon Christian principles."

to the Schwartz-Reisman Foundation. It is difficult to see how the Foundation can be expected to administer its scholarship year to year "in accordance with Christian principles". Although I am not a scholar of Christianity, I venture that Jesus would not substantively support a state that practices economic and physical apartheid and frequently militarily slaughters unarmed civilians.

What is needed maybe is a statutory challenge. The university executives do not have the authority to subvert the University of Ottawa Act, 1965. Indeed, the executives have a duty and a responsibility to uphold the Act. Does the former Minister of Justice agree?

-###-

Denis G. Rancourt was a tenured and full professor of physics at the University of Ottawa in Canada. He practiced several areas of science which were funded by a national agency and ran an internationally recognized laboratory. He published over 100 articles in leading scientific journals. He developed popular activism courses and was an outspoken critic of the university administration and a defender of student and Palestinian rights. He was fired for his dissidence in 2009 by a president who is a staunch supporter of Israeli policy. [See rancourt.academicfreedom.ca] http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/

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