Balsillie School facing struggle over academic autonomy

June 20, 2010

The new Balsillie School of International Affairs, a collaboration between the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Jim Balsillie's private-sector think-tank the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), is still under construction but already facing governance challenges. The School has recently lured big-name scholars Thomas Homer-Dixon and Ramesh Thakur, but Thakur has just been dismissed less than halfway through his contract as the School's first director. He writes, "academic freedom is the bedrock of the university, and autonomy from outside interests (however well-meaning) is important in protecting that academic freedom.” The partnership agreement grants CIGI input into all hiring decisions, and the option to withdraw its $33 million if there are irreconcilable differences. Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, is concerned that "private money [is] trumping academic principle."  The School counters that because it is a partnership, "the strict rules of universities do not apply."  Globe and Mail