Commercial 'threat to freedom'

October 29, 1999

MONTREAL. Canadian higher education appears to be building a "corporate university" that places

commercial opportunities ahead of academic freedom, a professor warns in a book published today.

Neil Tudiver, from the University of Manitoba, calls for urgent government action to avoid a commercial takeover of the country's university system.

In Universities for Sale, he says bold steps must be taken to ensure the country's universities operate free of the constraints caused by their greater reliance on commercial partnerships.

His book will be launched at a conference in Ottawa organised by the Canadian Association of University Teachers.

"Universities and Colleges in the Public Interest" will consider the impact of increasing private sector involvement on the integrity and independence of universities and colleges.

Dr Tudiver writes: "Reduced core money from government has meant that universities can less easily set their own priorities." Universitites are driven more by external markets and less by internal academic criteria. "Research is being run like a business, with projects designed to take advantage of commercial oppor-

tunities."

The recent case of University of Toronto blood specialist Nancy Olivieri, sued by the drug company Apotex after warning patients of dangerous side-

effects not seen in one of her earlier trials, highlights possible conflicts.

Dr Tudiver writes that drug trials should be financed entirely by government through special taxes on the pharmaceutical companies. "In this way, the companies would still pay for the research but with no direct connection to the investigators."

Ms Olivieri is one of the speakers at the conference, along with fellow whistleblower Michelle Brill-Edwards, who lost her job as Canada's senior physician responsible for prescription drug

approvals.

David Robinson, spokesman for the CAUT, said: "Ottawa has clearly been promoting a greater corporate presence on campus." He cited the case of a prime ministerial advisory council on science and technology, which proposed commercialisation of intellectual property as a factor in tenure and promotion.

Dr Tudiver disagrees. "Implementing these recommendations would establish unprecedented government interference in universities. This initiative threatens to alter the university's core priorities by adding commercialisation to teaching, research and community service."

With the government acting as a "matchmaker" with industry, the university's independence is threatened, he said. "Universities are the only place we have for independent inquiry. If we lose it, we can't recover it."

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