Canadian studies scholars quit UK foundation

Removal of academic board member from body supporting study of Canada in the UK spurs resignations

March 5, 2015

A heated row has broken out on the board of the organisation responsible for supporting the study of Canada in British universities.

The Foundation for Canadian Studies in the UK, according to its website, “was established in 1975 to support teaching, research and publishing about Canada in the United Kingdom, and to promote academic links and student exchanges between Canadian and British universities…The Foundation, although operating entirely separately, co-operates with the Canadian High Commission, London, and thereby collaborates with the Government of Canada”.

On 2 December, Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner to the UK, wrote to the board that he believed “the Foundation has the potential to do more to inform and educate the British public with respect to the strength of the Canada-UK relationship”.

In return for “additional resources”, he continued, the High Commission was exercising its right to “appoint four Board members with full voting rights”. Three turned out to be commission employees.

One then proposed a motion to remove long-standing board member Rachel Killick, emeritus professor of Quebec studies and 19th-century French studies at the University of Leeds, on the grounds that “she does not support the fundamental vision regarding the Foundation’s future direction”. This was passed at an emergency meeting on 13 February.

Her treatment, and wider concerns about the intended “future direction” of the foundation, led four other board members to resign in quick succession.

These included historian Margaret MacMillan, warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford, and Steve Hewitt, senior lecturer in American and Canadian studies at the University of Birmingham, leaving only one academic on the board.

In her resignation letter, Professor MacMillan said she was “shocked and dismayed” by plans to remove a board member who had “worked so hard and conscientiously”.

It was also clear, Professor MacMillan added, that “the High Commission intends effectively to take the Foundation over and use its funds for the promotion of Canada’s interests as defined by it”.

In an outspoken open letter, Dr Hewitt expressed his fears that the changes afoot would lead to the foundation becoming “the funder of neo-liberal talking shops on the part of London-based business elites”.

“There has always been a tension between the business and academic members of the board,” he explained to Times Higher Education, “but the tension has never erupted in the way it has now”.

In 2012, the current Canadian government axed the major Understanding Canada programme, which provided support for academics working in the field all over the world. The High Commission’s new plans for the foundation, claimed Dr Hewitt, represented “one more nail in the coffin of Canadian studies in the UK”.

Asked for a comment, a Canadian High Commission spokeswoman said that before the recent resignations it had been “approached by members of the board and asked to intervene in an ongoing divergence of views. The majority of members…felt the Foundation was not appropriately fulfilling its charitable interests – namely ‘advancement of the education of the public in the UK in matters relating to Canada’.”

The spokeswoman added that “the group’s charitable status was in jeopardy because of the narrow focus the Foundation had adopted over the years. As part of the regulations governing the foundation, the High Commission appointed four board members in a bid to bring stability to the Foundation in the short term.”

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