Premier declines honorary degree

May 3, 1996

Ralph Klein, the premier of Alberta, Canada, has refused an honorary degree from the University of Alberta after protests by students. Mr Klein, whose Progressive Conservative government has been responsible for implementing sweeping cuts to post-secondary education in Alberta, had been under pressure to refuse the degree after the vast majority of Edmonton residents voiced their displeasure in a poll.

In a thank-you letter to the premier after the refusal, student representative Matthew Hough wrote: "Most have difficulty with the propriety of honouring a current politician, especially someone who has been seen as less than supportive of the University of Alberta."

Since Mr Klein came to power in 1992, Alberta's universities have had 21 per cent less money from its government. The Advanced Education and Career Development budget, which in 1992/93 was Can$ 1.36 billion (Pounds 680 million, is projected to be Can$ 201 million down by next year budget.

The Klein government, nearing election time, recently announced an additional Can$55 million funding to make universities more accessible. But the University of Alberta, operating on Can$53 million less with a Can$329 million budget, still suffers the effects of the initial cuts.

"Tuition fees doubled, class sizes got larger and resources on campus diminished," said Mr Hough, who is one of the student union vice presidents. He wrote to the premier's office asking him to reconsider the nomination and avoid embarrassment for himself, the university and its students.

Mr Klein did not answer Mr Hough's letter. Student protest erupted but the university senate showed no signs of budging from its position and the controversy got into the provincial press. Finally, when Mr Klein turned down the degree, he said the issue had become controversial because, among other things, some "do not trust this government's vision."

"In many ways this offer represented one of the most significant honours that I might ever receive," said Mr Klein, a high-school drop-out, at a party fund-raising event. He added that he was declining in order to save the "good name" of the university. The university senate is to meet this month to discuss the future of handing out honorary degrees to sitting politicians.

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