Recent outrage targeting the University of Alberta for its decision to give Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki an honorary doctor of science degree is "misdirected" and "unfair," a fellow honouree says.
International human rights lawyer David Matas — who receives his honorary doctor of laws today from the U of A — said the Edmonton school shouldn’t be blamed for the selection of the well-known scientist and activist.
Suzuki, who opposes development of the oilsands, has been denounced by many in the province who rely on the industry for their livelihood.
"If the people of Alberta do not like the choice of Suzuki, they should not blame the university. They should blame themselves for electing representatives who enacted the process which generated that choice," Matas, 74, said Monday from Hong Kong, before leaving for Edmonton.
Anyone can nominate a candidate for an honorary doctorate at the U of A, Matas explained. "The nomination forms are posted on the university website."
Its senate, which has a strong community component, selects the recipients. A member of the public can apply to be a member of the University of Alberta senate. Out of a membership of 62, the school has 30 publicly elected members who represent geographical areas and groups and organizations with an interest in the university.
"A university senate — which is in large part drawn from members of the public — will inevitably have much more of a general public interest focus on the choice of honorary degree recipients than a university senate that is mainly drawn from those with an institutional connection with the university," said Matas, who serves as senior legal counsel for B’nai Brith Canada.
"Both Suzuki and I were, I suspect, beneficiaries of the particular form of selection the University of Alberta has."
The structure of the U of A senate was determined by the Alberta legislature in the Post-Secondary Learning Act, Matas said. The rules the school follows were enacted by legislators elected by the people, he said.
"The university has become unfairly the focus of the controversy... If I am right that there is a direct link between the structure of the senate and the choice of Suzuki that was made, the credit or blame should go to the legislature of Alberta and, ultimately, the people of Alberta who elect its representatives."
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