University of Alberta honorary degree for David Suzuki ruffles feathers across campus

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      David Suzuki has received quite a few honorary degrees over the years. So many, in fact, that his Wikipedia page has an entire standalone section dedicated to the topic.

      But one more degree that Suzuki is scheduled to add to the list this June is attracting more attention than the many that came before it.

      On June 7, Edmonton-based University of Alberta has planned to bestow the famous scientist, broadcaster, and environmentalist with an honorary degree at this year’s spring convocation. And not everyone is happy about it.

      “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, dean of the University of Alberta’s engineering faculty, wrote on one of the school’s websites on Monday (April 23).

      The letter does not mention Suzuki by name but makes clear who it was written in reference to.

      Suzuki is a recipient of the Order of Canada, one of the world’s best-known scientists, and an activist who’s dedicated much of his life to the environment. So what’s there to be so upset about?

      If you live in Alberta, that last point, of course. Suzuki has often singled out Canada’s tar sands for their development’s sizable contributions to the planet’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

      Forbes isn’t the only one displeased with the University of Alberta’s honorary degree for Suzuki. According to the Vancouver Sun, the Calgary-based firm Moodys Gartner Tax Law has said that it is cancelling a $100,000 funding committing it previously made to the university’s law school.

      There are also letter-writing campaigns underway that ask people to share their objections.

      On April 13, the university acknowledged the controversy in a statement published on its website.

      “Some have expressed displeasure with the announcement that Dr. David Suzuki is one of those recipients,” it begins.

      “We understand how important the oil and gas industry is to Alberta. We too are acutely aware of the anger and frustration with the current situation surrounding the Trans Mountain Pipeline, and the debate between advocates of energy development and advocates of environmental preservation,” the statement continues. “That debate is happening across the campuses of the University of Alberta, as it should be, and here too there are very divergent opinions on this issue.

      “The conferral of an honorary degree by the University of Alberta is not a signal of institutional agreement with any individual perspective on a controversial issue; rather, it honours the contributions and full body of work of those who represent diverse backgrounds and fields of endeavour.”

      The statement goes on to list Suzuki’s various accomplishments related to science and especially emphasize the role that he has played over several decades in making science more accessible to the general public.

      “Dr. Suzuki’s credentials, body of work and career as a public intellectual are well established and make him a worthy recipient of an honorary degree,” it concludes. “While we recognize that certain of Dr. Suzuki’s perspectives on the current debate between economic development and environmental sustainability are themselves a subject of debate, as an institution of higher learning, the university is committed to the expression of, exposure to and debate of diverse points of view.”

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