University of Alberta’s decision to give David Suzuki honorary degree criticized

Scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki is pictured in a Toronto hotel room, on Monday November 11 , 2016.
Scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki is pictured in a Toronto hotel room, on Monday November 11 , 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

After announcing on April 10 that David Suzuki would be one of the 13 honorary degree recipients in 2018, the University of Alberta is defending its decision.

“Some have expressed displeasure … that Dr. David Suzuki is one of those recipients,” the university said in a statement posted on its website April 13.

The post-secondary institution explained that honorary degrees are given to people “who represent diverse backgrounds and fields of endeavour” and “honours the contributions and full body of work.”

READ MORE: Canada’s Walk of Fame to induct Donovan Bailey, David Suzuki, among others 

“The conferral of an honorary degree by the University of Alberta is not a signal of institutional agreement with any individual perspective,” the U of A post said.

This year’s recipients include agriculture advocate Nettie Wiebe, physicist and science educator Brian Cox, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, francophone culture expert France Levasseur-Ouimet, journalist and CBC foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed, and Suzuki.

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In the post, the university acknowledged the heated debate and frustration surrounding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion “and the debate between advocates of energy development and advocates of environmental preservation.”

READ MORE: Kinder Morgan halts Trans Mountain pipeline expansion amid B.C. opposition 

“That debate is happening across campuses of the University of Alberta, as it should be, and here too there are very divergent opinions on this issue.”

It said U of A faculty and students research solutions on both fronts: economic development in oil and gas as well as environmental sustainability.

“Dr. Suzuki is being awarded an honorary degree for the breadth of his accomplishments and leadership as a public educator in science,” the post said, adding he’s received honorary degrees from 25 universities in Canada, Australia and the United States.

“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,” the post concludes.

Despite the explanation, many people are upset the university has chosen Suzuki for the honour.

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Rob Kneteman, who identifies himself as a U of A graduate who currently works for oil company Canadian Natural Resources (CNRL), wrote a letter to the university president after hearing an honorary degree would be given to Suzuki.

“I think this is not only insulting to anyone that works in Alberta’s oil and gas industry but, most importantly, is unacceptable to anyone that has earned a degree by studying and understanding the value of the sciences and the principles of evidence-based research and decision making,” Kneteman wrote in a letter to David Turpin, which he shared on Facebook.

“For years, David Suzuki has used political grandstanding, popularity, and funding from Canadian tax payers to push a political agenda that not just hurts Albertans, but is also hypocritical and unbelievably biased,” Kneteman wrote.

However, others seem more in support of the decision.

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