Toronto - Health organizations joined with alumni and faculty today to escalate a campaign started last November to break a tobacco company's ties with a university course in business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The Non-Smokers' Rights Association and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada announced the latest phase of their campaign designed to persuade the University of St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto to sever its relationship with Imperial Tobacco. They are pressing to have the $150,000 donation returned to the cigarette company.
The revelation that St. Mike's had accepted the donation from the makers of du Maurier and Player's led to the resignations of members of the CSR Advisory Board, the withdrawal of one of the three CSR programme partners, and protests by alumni and university faculty.
"The St. Mike's decision confers 'innocence by association' on the manufacturers of an epidemic," said Dr. Atul Kapur, President of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. "And it places St. Mike's in opposition to public health and the community as a whole. We fail to understand why a university would agree to partner with Big Tobacco. We have no alternative but to ask the University to make a choice between embracing the interests of public health or legitimizing an industry whose behaviour has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Canadians."
"So far, St. Mike's just doesn't get it," said Garfield Mahood, Executive Director of the Non-Smokers' Rights Association (NSRA). "If St. Mike's officials enrolled in their own business ethics course, they would flunk. This decision does not become ethical just because the industry is 'legal'. The law only establishes the floor for acceptable behaviour. Courses in business ethics are designed to encourage people to get off the floor and aspire to higher ethical standards," stressed Mahood. "The tobacco industry's ethics are not on the floor. They are in the basement."
To remind St. Michael's College that this issue is not going to go away, the health groups today published a hard-hitting, four-page centerfold insert in The Varsity, the venerable University of Toronto newspaper. "We intend to engage St. Mike's in a real debate about 'legal' sources of funding," said Mahood. "With our news conference today and radio commercials which will begin running in mid-March, we'll find out what the wider public and St. Mike's alumni think of the University getting in bed with a 'legal' but reviled industry."
"When I tell people that St. Mike's is funding the study of ethics with tobacco money," said Denise DePape, a health professional and alumnus of St. Mike's, "their first reaction is usually laughter. Then disbelief sets in. After all, this industry's history of lying and predatory behaviour is breathtaking. Allowing tobacco manufacturers to buy respectability with a donation for the study of ethics is considered outrageous by just about everyone."
"Universities should model the principles in ethics that they encourage their students to practice after graduation" said Bob Willard, an author and member of the CSR Advisory Board who resigned over the tobacco sponsor. "This donation flags one of those principles. Governing one's behaviour by the minimal standard dictated by what is merely legal is not a good enough standard for ethical behaviour. I know of no ethical mutual fund that fails to screen out tobacco investments. In such an environment, how could the University conclude that it would be acceptable to take tobacco money to fund the study of corporate ethics?"
"I would never have believed that St. Michael's would take such a donation," said Dr. Laurent Leduc, head of Leadership Horizons, the firm that set up the ethics course and was one of three core partners with the University on the CSR programme at the time. "St. Mike's is a fine university. The decision to take the Imperial donation in no way reflects the moral leadership of the faculty who are so committed to social justice.
"All of us understand the financial constraints that universities face," said Dr. Leduc. "But what any institution of higher learning must appreciate is that ethical considerations are not optional extras. They cannot be respected or discarded depending on fluctuations in the stock market. No financial need is sufficiently compelling to justify acceptance of funding from this source."
"There are many reasons why a university should reject tobacco money," said Dr. Bruce Buchanan, a retired Ontario Ministry of Health official and University of Toronto alumnus. "Universities must be committed to the pursuit of truth in science. But millions of pages of documents now on the public record show that the tobacco industry has suppressed the truth and undermined objective science. In fact, its disinformation campaigns have led to the premature deaths of thousands of Canadians. Any institution seriously committed to the discovery of truth should gag at the thought of taking money from this source."
"One of my interests related to this donation is academic freedom," said Professor Rhonda Love of the Department of Public Health Sciences. "Given the recent massive lawsuits against this industry, any serious course in corporate social responsibility, sooner or later, would have to look into the offensive behaviour of the tobacco manufacturers. This critical look at corporate behaviour requires the protection of academic freedom, which universities must protect and must be seen to be protecting. Sometimes this requires close scrutiny of donors' behaviour no matter what the consequences of that scrutiny. Dr. Leduc proposed a course assignment based on the case study of a tobacco donation to a United Kingdom university and his assignment outline was rejected. It is possible to construe that the rejection of his assignment was related to corporate funding of the program of study. Indeed some might say that it looks like Imperial Tobacco bought silence," said Professor Love. "And that raises serious academic freedom concerns."
"We are here today to send a message to St. Mike's and to the University of Toronto that with this campaign you are seeing the beginning of the end of the funding of universities and colleges by this rogue industry," said François Damphousse, head of the NSRA's Quebec bureau. "We predict that as the spotlight focuses on this industry's anti-science track record, the cigarette manufacturers will become outcasts on university campuses."
"We've talked today about the moral lapse in judgment with the determination of St.Michael's College to take this money," said Dr. Kapur. "Let's contrast this with the decision last year by the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union in Saskatoon to reject a $250,000 contract with Imperial Tobacco for concerts in the student bar. A student representative is reported to have said
'The students' bar shouldn't be associated with tobacco. It's dirty money…they are in the business of killing people.' This is the decision that St. Mike's should have reached but it was the students that got it right."
"Today, we will deliver a letter to University of St. Michael's College Chancellor Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic and ask that the Imperial Tobacco donation be returned, to rebuild confidence in the ethics programme," said Mr. Mahood. "We will deliver a second letter to U.of T. President Robert Birgeneau and ask for his leadership on this issue. We will ask that a university-wide ethical screen be created to block tobacco industry funding of the University. We will also recommend that the University direct its portfolio managers to divest all tobacco stocks in its portfolio as have Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Michigan and other major U.S. universities. The only ethical course of action is to take Big Tobacco out of universities."
The Non-Smokers' Rights Association and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada are national non-profit health organizations that specialize in the development and promotion of effective tobacco control policy.
Contacts: David Oved (416) 972-7403
Garfield Mahood (416) 928-2900 or cell (416) 451-4285
Dr. Atul Kapur (613) 862-0809
Non-Smokers' Rights Association
720 Spadina Avenue, Suite 221
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2T9
Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada
1226 A Wellington Street