Digging for gold

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he University of Toronto   is a world-class institution with illustrious alumni, outstanding faculty, and state-of-the-art facilities. Naturally, the university is associated with many recognizable names. This includes names like Peter Munk, a U of T alumnus who founded Barrick Gold in 1983; it is currently the world’s largest gold mining company.

Flush with wealth, Munk is an active philanthropist. His funds helped build the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto General Hospital in 1997, and he has donated millions to Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, an engineering school in Israel. He has also been generous to the Conservative Party of Canada, by donating over the designated limit on three occasions.

Those at U of T probably know him best for the Munk School of Global Affairs, which houses programs and classes for students engaging in international studies.

For some, Munk’s involvement in the university represents encroaching corporatization and is accompanied by the sketchy reputation of Barrick Gold. They raise questions about how academic integrity is maintained at U of T, in light of sizable donations by controversial public figures.

Principles and policies

In U of T’s mission and purpose statement, the university commits to “the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice” and vows to “protect its integrity, autonomy and academic freedom.” When it comes to donations, the university administration states that they would refuse any gift that subverts these values.

According to Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s vice president and provost, “gifts will never compromise academic freedom or freedom of speech, and their use will always be driven by the University’s mission and academic priorities. All donor agreements – including that for the Munk School of Global Affairs – unequivocally state that the donor supports the University’s academic plans and aspirations, not the other way around.”

Similar statements about the Munk School have been made in the past by former provost Cheryl Misak and former president David Naylor; Naylor was on Barrick Gold’s board of directors from April 2014 to May 2015 but has since returned to U of T since then.

While this policy seems to address concerns the U of T community might have about Munk’s philanthropy, there remains something particularly concerning to some about Barrick Gold, which makes even an indirect association with the company a stain on U of T’s integrity.

Foul play

As a whole, the mining industry is known for being socially and environmentally destructive — Barrick Gold is not immune to this. The company recently admitted to spilling 1 million litres of cyanide in the San Juan province of Argentina, after initially reporting a spill of 15,000 litres. The incident contaminated five Argentine rivers.

In 2013, Barrick Gold was fined $16 million USD for violating its environmental permit in Chile by polluting glaciers and the water supply. The company’s blasting activities caused cracks in the homes of many people living in a Zambian village.

Mallika Makkar/The Varsity
Mallika Makkar/The Varsity

Multiple gang rapes have been committed on Barrick Gold mining sites by police officers and security guards. In Tanzania, the company paid damages to the victims. In Papua New Guinea, over 200 women have been sexually assaulted over the past two decades; 11 of them have received compensation through an out-of-court settlement, on the condition that they never seek damages again. Another 120 victims received much smaller compensations. Munk excused the Papua New Guinea cases in 2011, calling gang rape “a cultural habit” of the country. Several local men and boys have also been shot and killed on the mining site there.

Barrick Gold often sets up mining sites on the lands of Indigenous people, who have little economic or political power to challenge the damage inflicted upon their communities. It is estimated that 50 per cent of mining operations occur on native lands.

Sydney Lang, a fourth-year student who became an organizer with the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN), cannot see past these injustices when she considers Munk’s presence at U of T.

“For me, there is no way that this could not compromise the university’s integrity as an institution, not to mention one that prides itself on equity, justice, and protecting human rights,” says Lang.

While the actions of Barrick Gold have caused concern, interactions between the Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation and the university seem to suggest a less-than-perfect separation of donor and academics. The 2009 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the foundation and U of T’s Governing Council seems to afford the foundation some academic sway.

The first recital of the agreement is that international studies should be a “top academic priority” at U of T and that the Munk School should aim to be a leader in the field. A clause is included where both parties agree that there will be an “Additional Gift” of $15,000,000 if the recital is met, but the criteria for meeting this is not set out in the document. The MOA also stipulates that both parties agree to the university’s institutional purpose, and that the donor “enthusiastically supports U of T’s vision for the school.”

This may not be an unusual practice. It is common, for instance, for scholarship donors to set guidelines dictating who qualifies to receive their gift, based on factors ranging from race to area of study.

President of the Peter and Melanie Munk Charitable Foundation, Rudyard Griffiths, did not respond to request for comment.

Munk’s actions at the university combined with Barrick Gold’s in Latin America have ignited an initiative among students and professors at U of T called ‘Munk OUT of U of T.’ Their aim is to remove the influence of Barrick Gold— and those associated with it — from the university. 

“It makes it seem that this incredibly rich person is totally benevolent. We’re supposed to thank him for all this stuff. The university does that… It helps, in my opinion, massage massive profits and inequalities by giving it the sheen of philanthropy and charity at the university,” says Faculty of Medicine professor Paul Hamel, who, along with chemistry professor John Valleau, wrote “The Perils of Philanthropy: The Case of the Munk School,” an article decrying the magnate’s influence on campus.

Public perception

Lang alleges that Barrick Gold uses strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) as a means to silence and defame their dissenters. SLAPPs are meant to threaten critics of the company with a financial burden; students and professors have reported being on the receiving end of these tactics.

Jan,* a professor that is affiliated with the Munk School, says that neither Munk nor Barrick Gold directly interfere with academic activities, and that scholars do not avoid speaking about issues in mining.

The company, however, continues to cast a shadow over the school and remains an indirect influence. “We have had speakers directly address these topics without issue. There is no doubt though that the linkage has a more informal chilling effect on programming — particularly to the extent that researchers who focus on the extractive industry are very unlikely to apply to programs located at the Munk School, an outcome to be expected,” explains Jan.

There is no doubt though that the linkage has a more informal chilling effect on programming — particularly to the extent that researchers who focus on the extractive industry are very unlikely to apply to programs located at the Munk School, an outcome to be expected.”

This same shadow has affected other academic choices within the school. “I was granted a work-study job through the Latin American studies department in 2011, which at the time, was associated with the Munk [School] for Global Affairs. I noticed that my pay cheque was stamped by the Munk [School]. I was curious about who this Peter Munk guy was, and when I found out that I was being paid with dirty money, it literally made me sick. I quit the job and left the program,” says Kelsey Ross, student and member of MISN.

Mallika Makkar/The Varsity
Mallika Makkar/The Varsity

The Latin American studies program is now housed in the Jackman Humanities Building, a move which Hamel says occurred after they encountered trouble inviting speakers to address topics involving Canadian companies.

As a student, Lang also experiences Munk’s influence on a indirect level. “For me, as an equity studies student, I have often discussed mining injustices in class. From conversations with students in the program, the problem is that even if students do oppose what they are learning at the Munk School, job insecurities… push students into complicity. Students depend on the professors who teach them… to write them references; they depend on the connections they make there to get them a job.”

Mining, Canada, and U of T

Barrick Gold is not the only mining company with influence at U of T. Goldcorp, a gold producer headquartered in Vancouver, recently donated $4 million to the university to fund The Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry.

About 70 per cent of mining activity in Latin America involves Canadian companies, and Goldcorp and Barrick Gold are among the top seven leading Canadian mining companies in the region.

Like Barrick Gold, Goldcorp has been subject to numerous allegations of environmental and human rights abuses. According to The Guardian, Goldcorp’s Marlin Mine in Guatemala has received complaints from the local Mam and Sipakapense communities regarding “intimidation, threats, social division, violence, bribery and corruption of local authorities, destruction and contamination of water sources, livestock dying, houses shaking, cracked walls, the criminalization of protest, forest cleared, and appalling health impacts such as malnutrition and skin diseases.”

The Innovation Centre for the Canadian Mining Industry will also be supported by gold investor Pierre Lassonde, who donated $5 million to the project.

The Lassonde Institute of Mining at U of T is supported by the businessman and, according to its website, “aims to attract and train future leaders in mining research and use its researchers’ expertise to benefit the mining industry.”

“This program is presented as a vocational partnership between the resource sector and the University of Toronto,” Ross says. “What is of ‘benefit’ to this industry, however, relies on colonial imperatives. Housing such an institute implies U of T’s tacit acceptance of human rights and environmental abuses committed by mining companies.”

“By having a whole bunch of people provide accolades to this person giving all this money, I think what it does is it distracts from the deleterious effects of the global corporate mining interests… it puts these people on a pedestal who should otherwise be taken to task for accumulating such spectacular wealth,” says Hamel.

“By having a whole bunch of people provide accolades to this person giving all this money, I think what it does is it distracts from the deleterious effects of the global corporate mining interests.”

Approaching funding

As funding from the Ontario government has continuously dropped, universities such as U of T rely on private sources of revenue. Based on data from 2013–2014, U of T had the lowest share of the province’s operating grant.

The grants make up 20 per cent of the university’s revenue, with the remaining 80 per cent coming from outside the province, which includes students’ tuitions and money from the federal government.

Currently, about 1 per cent of a university’s average operating budget comes from donations.

It may be time, however, for public institutions such as U of T to consider the consequences of accepting donations from private companies or individuals more carefully.

“These considerations are sometimes ones that develop over time in relation to changing social mores and the emergence of new information. We saw this with Harvard’s recent decision to drop an official shield which borrowed from the crest of a slaveholding family, and I think we are seeing it with the University of Toronto’s deliberations around divesting from the fossil fuel industry,” says Jan.

Mallika Makkar/The Varsity
Mallika Makkar/The Varsity

For Hamel, the way forward means creating a system where donors give money to the university and do not tell the university where that money should go; donors, Hamel says, need to trust the academic missions of universities.

“It’s organized in such a way that incentivizes people with money to give money to things that they want to do, the places that have access to that kind of donor will prosper, which distorts massively the university,” says Hamel. “So you can imagine over at Rotman they have access to lots of capital… [while] sociology, the history of Latin America… philosophy, history of science, they don’t really have access to those sort of things, so those programs are always being squeezed all the time, while other ones prosper.”

“I think that it’s healthy for students, faculty and the administration to engage in open debate on these issues, and for funding decisions to be revisited over time so that institutions keep pace with social progress,”adds Jan.

Some members of the U of T community are clearly unafraid to speak out against perceived injustice, and the institution is not spared their critiques. While U of T relies on philanthropy to maintain its budget, students and professors have proven that those donations — which run counter to their beliefs about what an academic institution should be — will continue to be opposed, questioned, and resisted.