Academic freedom was violated when Ramesh Thakur was dismissed from his post as director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs, according to a report compiled by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). The Balsillie School is jointly managed by the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
According to the report, Thakur, whose contract was to extend to 2013, was dismissed in the spring alledgedly because he objected to interference in academic decisions from Blackberry Entrepreneur Jim Balsillie’s private think tank, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).
“Dr. Thakur was unfairly treated . . . [and] had every right to expect support from the Presidents of UW and WLU . . . when he sounded the alarm on CIGI’s proposals,” the report, written by University of Saskatchewan English professor Len Findlay, concluded. “Insofar as his academic freedom depended on the protections of institutional autonomy, it became increasingly vulnerable to threats from the outside and complicity on the inside.”
The report further called Thakur’s dismissal “a serious lapse of judgement and loss of commitment to institutional autonomy, academic integrity, due process, and natural justice.”
A donation of $33 million to help create the School was funneled through CIGI, and faculty appointed to the Balsillie School are simultaneously appointed as CIGI chairs.
CIGI maintains that Balsillie had no role in Thakur’s dismissal.
A statement released on behalf of CIGI, UWaterloo and WLU dismissed the findings of the report. “The [Balsillie School of International Affairs] partners unanimously and strenuously disagree with the CAUT report’s findings and interpretation of the events. The report is based on a flawed and incomplete interpretation of the circumstances and rationale for the decision,” the statement read. “Donor influence was absolutely not an issue in the departure of the former director.”
In an interview with the Globe and Mail Thakur, who is a former Senior Vice Rector of the United Nations University and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he felt vindicated by the CAUT report. “Had it been clear to me that the school was a wholly owned subsidiary of CIGI, I would never have taken the job,” he said.
Governor General David Johnston was president of the University of Waterloo at the time of the incident.
Photo: Research In Motion CEO and Blackberry entrepreneur Jim Balsillie, Canadian Press