Open Letter of Concern regarding the CIGI-York agreement Reply

The following is an email distributed to York faculty on March 22, 2012. It informs about the Open Letter of Concern regarding the CIGI-York University agreement, signed by 273 full-time faculty members and librarians, to be delivered to York’s Administration and Senate on that day. The list of signatories follows, as well as the rationale for the letter, media reports, and relevant links.


CIGI Agreement: Open Letter of Concern signed by 273 faculty members


If you are having difficulty reading this email, you can download a pdf here:

Dear colleagues,

The following is the Open Letter of Concern signed by 273 full-time faculty members and librarians, to be delivered to York’s Administration and Senate on Thursday, March 22, 2012. The list of signatories follows.

For the rationale for the letter, media reports, and relevant links, see below.

You can email us at <>, or contact Jody Berland <> or Malcolm Blincow <>.


CIGI- York University Agreement: Open Letter of Concern from York University Faculty Members

To: York University Administration and Senate

From: Full-time Faculty Members

We write to express our dismay about York University’s Agreement with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), which has received public attention.

This Agreement gives CIGI, a private think tank, unprecedented influence over the University’s academic affairs, including hiring of faculty and direction of academic research. The Agreement establishes a legitimate basis for public doubt about the independence and reliability of research emanating from the University. This problem is not rectified by the University Administration’s protocols released to the public February 10 and March 9, 2012.

The Administration has claimed that the Agreement does not require the approval of York Senate and that York’s Acceptance of Gifts Policy does not apply to the underlying funding relationship. The Administration is in this matter circumventing well-established processes of academic governance designed to protect academic freedom and ensure institutional autonomy in academic matters. Senate’s role and responsibilities for academic policy are stipulated in the York University Act, 1965.

We call on CIGI and the Administration to take no steps to implement this Agreement until Senate and the affected Faculty Councils have considered the Agreement and associated documentation, and have given their approval to an amended Agreement that provides adequate protections for academic freedom and institutional autonomy. We think that Senate and the affected Faculty Councils must be given an opportunity to review the agreement, to consider the full record of Osgoode Hall Law School’s earlier consideration of the initiative, and to hear from faculty members who developed a detailed Osgoode Faculty Council protocol to safeguard academic freedom and institutional autonomy that was not adopted by the Administration.


[273 signatures were listed in the email. The final list of signatures includes 310 names, which can be seen here]


The York-CIGI Agreement was signed in August 2011 without prior consultation with York Senate or Osgoode Faculty Council. It commits public and private funds to establish ten Chairs and an academic program in international law. It gives CIGI a direct role in developing “research areas” for each Chair, establishing Chairs’ “research plans and research support”, recommending faculty members’ “appointment, renewal, and termination”, and approving the program’s annual budget. The University is required to appoint Chairs from a shortlist approved by a Steering Committee on which CIGI has half the votes. Because all Steering Committee decisions must be unanimous under the Agreement, CIGI has an effective veto on these issues.

These problems are linked to the Agreement’s non-endowment structure, under which CIGI will disburse the funds to the University in quarterly advances over ten years.

Such external influence over academic matters undermines the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy that provide the basis for the scholarly reputation of a university. The scholarly reputation of individual researchers and of the University depends on the absence of reasonable perceptions that a private benefactor could interfere with academic plans and activities. This is essential to the public benefits that universities deliver.

The Administration has stated that it has negotiated new protocols to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy. In fact, these protocols originate in a protocol endorsed by Osgoode Faculty Council several months ago. In August 2011, the Dean of Osgoode committed not to implement the York-CIGI Agreement without Faculty Council approval. On November 28, Faculty Council approved the initiative, conditional on CIGI and the University signing the Osgoode protocol, and established a panel to discuss the protocol. CIGI and York never signed the Osgoode protocol. Instead, the Administration withdrew the initiative from Osgoode in January 2012.

The Administration’s “new” protocols omit various protections that were in the Osgoode protocol, including:

  • A definition of academic freedom laying out in detail the associated protected activities.
  • Explicit recognition of the University’s exclusive authority in all academic matters and the relevant Faculty Council’s discretion to determine academic policy and programming.
  • Provisions precluding any role for private contributors in the recruitment of faculty or renewal of faculty appointments. The Administration’s protocols retain CIGI’s direct role in approving shortlists for faculty appointments and do not remove CIGI’s role in developing research areas and plans, making recommendations for faculty renewal and termination, or approving the program’s budget.
  • Provisions requiring that the protocol and any modifications to it be approved by the relevant Faculty Council.
  • Provisions making clear that the protocol takes precedence over the Agreement. Only the Administration’s March 9 protocol on faculty recruitment explicitly takes precedence over the August Agreement; the protocol of February 10 on academic freedom does not.
  • A clause preventing CIGI and York from entering into secret agreements to alter the protocol.

Importantly, the Administration’s protocols use vague and circular language on the issue of whether they are binding and enforceable. If CIGI were to withhold or threaten to withhold funds, the University would face a major funding gap, making a clear enforcement process essential to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Even if never invoked, such a process would help to ensure that the parties honour their commitments.

In short, the Administration’s protocols are inadequate to address the serious concerns arising from the CIGI Agreement. They fall well short of protections required by Osgoode Faculty Council as a condition of its approval, many of which were understood by the Faculty Council panel to have been agreed by CIGI and the Administration as of early January. These protocols and the Agreement affect profoundly the role of Senate and Faculty Councils over academic policy, as stipulated in the York University Act, 1965.


[The original email included links to media reports and official documents. An updated list of links can be found here]

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