University of Alberta VP resigns following controversial climate change billboard

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U of A VP resigns after backlash for controversial billboard
WATCH: A University of Alberta vice president is taking the fall for a controversial billboard. Jacqui Tam resigned Sunday, but faculty members say more needs to be done. Breanna Karstens-Smith explains. – Sep 30, 2019

The vice-president of university relations at the University of Alberta has stepped down from her position amidst backlash over a billboard promoting potential benefits of climate change.

Jacqui Tam issued a statement late Sunday announcing her departure from the position.

“The research highlighted by the ad does not promote climate change as a benefit; nor was that the meaning intended by the ad,” Tam wrote in the statement Sunday night.

The billboard, located on 178 Street in the west end, read “beefier barley,” with subheading saying, “Climate change will boost Alberta’s barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle.”

Students and staff with the University of Alberta have slammed the message saying it ignores the catastrophic damage climate change is having.

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U of A political Science professor Laurie Adkin called the campaign “twisted” on Twitter.

According to the school, the ad was part of a larger “Truth Matters” advertising campaign that is meant to highlight University of Alberta research.

“However, public response has made clear that the advertisement’s wording fails to communicate the meaning and complexity of the research, allowing for easy misinterpretation,” Tam’s statement explained.

“In the best interests of the institution, I am announcing my departure from the University of Alberta, effective immediately.”

University of Alberta President David Turpin said he first saw the billboard Thursday. He reacted to Tam’s resignation Sunday night.

“Jacqui Tam is a person of incredible integrity. She has taken full responsibility for the ad,” Turpin said.

He revealed that such advertisements are usually approved by the executive before they are published but that “for some reason” that did not happen in this case.

“It would not have been an ad that if I had seen, I would have put forward,” Turpin explained.

Faculty of Science dean Matina Kalcounis-Rueppell said the marketing campaign caused concerns in the department over the representation of scientific research.

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“It is unfortunate that the findings of a 2017 peer-reviewed scientific study have been taken out of context with a single statement on a billboard and framed to suggest support for climate change,” Kalcounis-Rueppell said in a statement.

“There are risks associated with taking scientific results out of context, particularly in an age of science skepticism.”

The study, which Global News first covered in January 2018, said climate change is likely to lead to an increase in rainfed barley yields over the next four decades.

Alberta’s most important feed crop for beef production will benefit from warmer temperatures and increased humidity, the U of A study said.

Researchers pointed to more CO2 in the atmosphere, more rain in northern Alberta and an earlier southern snow melt.

The goals of the study included helping the beef industry plan for the future in the face of climate uncertainty. The study also aimed to increase awareness of how climate change will impact water needs, looking at both risks and opportunities.

Kalcounis-Rueppell said research on climate change, its complexities, and its many ramifications for society and the planet is ongoing in the faculty.

“I am deeply proud of our innovative, interdisciplinary, and world-leading research.

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“Scientists in our faculty advance innovation and discovery every day, and it is important to properly contextualize our research in communication.”

Kalcounis-Rueppell said as dean, she will “defend the integrity of scientific discovery and discourse in all of its complex forms.”

The university said it would pull the ad as soon as possible.

READ MORE: U of A billboard highlights research on climate change benefiting Alberta barley crops

— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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