Thiv s Pleasure Palace
Several issues have arisen around the 31 March 2004 announcement of the renaming of Western's medical school. Below is an attempt to categorize and understand these issues. As of now, all of these issues remain unresolved, and the only hope for resolving them remains gaining full disclosure and participation in the decision making process, and delaying informing the Senate vote by deferring it from the original date (16 April 2004) until the next sitting (14 May 2004). Please share your concerns by writing to your UWO senator or signing the petition.
What are students and the public asking for?
- In the short term:
- A full disclosure of the terms of the agreement with Mr. Schulich.
- A delay in the vote in the Senate to enable all stakeholders to review the disclosed material.
- An opportunity for the stakeholders to make submissions to the Senate to express their support or concern for the agreement.
- In the long term:
- A detailed framework to be established before an agreement that would clearly specify the procedures and criteria for accepting and soliciting donations.
- This framework must include open dialogue with the entire university community and a process to challenge any agreement before the school commits itself to it.
- The criteria and the evaluation must be disclosed to the public.
Why does all this have to be done?
Often with all the conflict and injustice in the world, we feel helpless to do anything. Sometimes, we are helpless. Regardless of our true or perceived power, we have the responsibility and ability to at least not add to global injustices. By asking the right questions and insisting on answers, we are doing the minimally decent thing. Even if we decide on accepting a gift, as responsible beings we must appreciate what we were getting ourselves into. We owe at least this to the society which we serve as future and current physicians.
Some issues that are raised regarding the process:
- While the time frame from the announcement of Mr. Schulich's donation being announced and the administration's hope to have things rushed through the Senate is a mere sixteen days, Western's administration has been courting Mr. Schulich for at least 18 months.
- The administration has not disclosed what criteria (if any) were applied to evaluate this deal, nor have they disclosed who was consulted in formulating the criteria.
- Why is there no open and transparent process with clear guidelines established, stating what the university is looking for in a benefactor and what it is prepared to share in return? More importantly, what is it not prepared to share or give up? We should have a consistent and open framework for all students, faculty, community members and potential benefactors.
- Why must this deal be rammed through the Senate in such a short period of time? The medical school will still be here in a few months or years. If it is so good for UWO and its students, we should be sharing the terms of the deal with all stakeholders so that we could all have confidence in the process.
- The current process runs antithetical to what universities and their students strive for. The mission statement for Western states that it "seeks to provide an environment of free and creative inquiry within which critical thinking, humane values, and practical skills are cultivated and sustained." This deal's process gives us no reason to be satisfied that all avenues and possibilities were explored: no time or room, much less cultivation, has been made available for inquiry into the ethics of this deal.
- Medical students in particular should care about this issue. When a prospective student is interviewed by a medical school for admission, she or he is rarely asked about questions involving pure science, but about social, political and ethical views. In short candidates are asked to consider the implications and consequences of their actions and those of their peers in medicine.
- Mr. Schulich's donation may very well pass a proper evaluation with flying colours, but we can't know unless the evaluation is constructed and conducted through an open process. It is an objective of Western's medical school for its students to "identify potential conflict between individual and population interests and seek advice from others, including ethicists, when necessary to help resolve issues." Western's medical students should do so, and in proper time.
What is in this deal?
It is important to understand what this arrangement between Mr. Schulich and Western is. While at first this may seem a donation - a contribution or gift without any sort of reciprocation expected - closer inspection bears out a different conclusion. This is more of a business transaction, with contractual obligations being placed on both parties. For many years, corporate philanthropy has been viewed as a business. Companies and individuals give money in exchange for something, such as "naming opportunities". Corporate philanthropy is big business with firms whose sole raison d'etre is to deal with fundraising strategies and schools with programs that formally train people for this industry. This is the context in which we must regard Mr. Schulich's (and future donors') donation.
If this is a business deal, how to we determine if we are getting good value? With any transaction in our personal lives, we determine what it is that we want and what is it that we are willing to give up or exchange to satisfy that want. Consider the following:
What are we "selling"? It's more than just a name
- To answer this, we have to ask what is being "sold". In naming our school, Mr. Schulich is aligning his name with our institution. We, in turn, will be aligning our name with the reputation of Mr. Schulich.
- Our school of medicine has roots that go back over 120 years. It has a reputation for being one of the finest schools in the country with some of the greatest minds working for its betterment.
- Hundreds of scientists, educators, administrators, and others have toiled over the years in this school's name. They have invested an enormous part of themselves in this institution.
- Citizens, via their governments have, invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this institution over the last century.
- The benefactor isn't buying into a building, she or he is buying into an institution. Buildings decay over time, but institutions can transcend that decay. When one buys into an institution, one buys a piece of immortality. At the end of the day, the students and faculty of Western's medical school can walk out of the doors of a building, but their institution's name will always be with them.
- In the case of Western, Mr. Schulich is buying into one of the countryâ€™s best-known elite institutions - A national if not international brand. Every time a scholar or researcher from our medical school is interviewed on television, the caption at the bottom of the screen will read: "Professor John Public, Schulich School of Medicine". Every time a groundbreaking article appears in a prestigious journal, it will bear the name Schulich School of Medicine after the author. (Ex. Prof. Fed Lazaar is often interviewed on business matter regarding the airline industry. He is quoted as being from Schulich Business School, not York University.)
- What we would essentially be "selling" is one of the most precious jewels in the Western crown.
What do we get?
- We get $26-million to be used for scholarships, but we are buying into Mr. Schulich's reputation as well.
- Purely hypothetical: If Mr. Schulich gets into questionable lines of business, are we still tied to his name without any say as to what he gets into?
- What obligations does he have to answer the university's questions on his business practices? Students and the public currently have no way (at least publicly) of knowing who we are doing business with, and no means of openly assessing the quality of the relationship. We only have vague assurances that everything is fine and that we should hurriedly embrace the deal.
- Does the Mr. Schulich or any other benefactor get to veto other naming opportunities tied to the med school? If so, this will limit our ability to broaden our reputational assets and improve our financial position.
Can the good outweigh the bad?
It is entirely possible that despite imperfections, this gift may still be worth embracing. However, the students, alumni and the public need to know the full and complete story before deciding. To simply say that a school needs money and that government cutbacks necessitate the unquestioned embrace of private and corporate donations is simply not enough.