Opponents to bestowing an honorary degree on environmentalist David Suzuki have lost sight of what the recognition is all about, says a Red Deerian whose father received the same tribute.
Rondo Wood said her father Kerry Wood was given an honorary degree from the University of Alberta in 1969 for his many environmental contributions and achievements that included writing 26 books and being one of the creators of Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary.
“They’re celebrating the individual’s process of contributing to the society,” said Wood, 78, on Thursday.
The U of A’s decision to give an honorary science degree to David Suzuki, who has spoken out against Alberta’s oilsands, has angered some Albertans as the province fights to get the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built.
She said the university’s honorary degree committee has recognized David Suzuki for his work over many years dating as far back as his research on the genetic structure of fruit flies.
“It’s about his entire contribution.”
She said honorary degrees are bestowed on people from a variety of backgrounds.
“Entrepreneurs have been granted honorary degrees. Ralph Klein got an honorary degree. It’s wide ranging and it should be.”
Some people are reconsidering their support of the university, but Wood said the University of Alberta Senate’s Honorary Degrees Committee is made up of variety of people including members of the public.
“The honorary degree process is lengthy and there’s wide participation. Discussions would have gone on for months. They thrash it out until they come to decisions,” said Wood who at one time worked as an executive officer for the U of A senate committee.
According to the U of A website, the committee is composed of a broad representation made of a mix of the following: the university president, representatives from the academic community, support staff, alumni association, students’ union, graduate students’ association and the community.
U of A president David Turpin said in a statement that many alumni, donors and friends have asked him to reverse the decision but the university will stand by its decision because “our reputation as a university — an institution founded on the principles of freedom of inquiry, academic integrity, and independence — depends on it.”
Red Deer College president Joel Ward said he supports Turpin and his comments about what the U of A is as an institution.
“If we want to curtail free speech then we’ll just bow down to everybody who doesn’t like something,” said Ward. “In my world good, honest debate is what a post-secondary institution is about and I would say this is causing people to have a really good discussion. People have a lot of opinions on a lot of things – it doesn’t make them right and it doesn’t make them wrong.”
Ward said it is not important whether or not he agrees with the U of A’s decision.
“I support Alberta, I support Albertans and I support the jobs that we do.”