Folio News Story
March 12, 1999

President defends Parkland Institute

Freedom of expression applies on and off campus

by Geoff McMaster
Folio Staff

President Rod Fraser continued to defend free speech this week after the Parkland Institute came under attack from Premier Ralph Klein.

At the Kaplan Awards Tuesday, Fraser said the university was committed to encouraging debate on critical and controversial problems. "The work and success of our Kaplan laureates seem to underscore the value to our society of work pursued in which individuals dare to take on the big challenges, dare to ask 'Why not,' dare to challenge conventional wisdom."

He emphasized the need to "protect freedom of expression in the pursuit of our research . freedom to publish, freedom to speak, and freedom to teach."

Fraser's remarks were made in the wake of a letter sent to him last week from Klein criticizing the Parkland Institute, a university-funded, left-wing think tank established in January, 1997 to counter right-wing think tanks such as the Fraser and C.D. Howe institutes.

In the letter, Klein wrote, "I am dismayed to see yet another one-sided and ideologically biased attack on the generosity of Albertans by the factually challenged Parkland Institute and its apparent campaign to undermine the good work of the people of this province."

The premier was particularly upset with remarks made by economist Armine Yalnizyan, of Toronto's Centre for Social Justice, at the institute's Poverty Amidst Plenty conference last weekend. Using research from Statistics Canada, and referring to the work of two University of Lethbridge scholars, Yalnizyan argued the gap between rich and poor in Alberta is growing faster than elsewhere in Canada, despite a rapidly growing economy. Klein argued "these conclusions that Albertans ignore the plight of the poor, echoed by the Parkland Institute itself, are not validated by reality."

Fraser said the university would not be intimidated by Klein's criticism, and would continue to foster a climate of open debate. The institute's director, Dr. Gordon Laxer, said he was "pleased with the uncompromising, clear position of the president and higher administration in favor of academic freedom at this university.

"I certainly think it's reasonable for the premier to have a position on the issues we've raised, but to send a letter to the president of the university rather than to us, or to come to our conference or go to the media.I think is an attempt to stifle free speech."

Faculty of Arts Dean Pat Clements said she shares "the wish of others in the faculty that the premier had spoken directly to the Parkland Institute about his disagreement with them, and that the substance of the disagreement had been debatable." She also stressed "we're expecting the Parkland Institute to continue doing provocative, interesting work."

Clements said the arts faculty has a three-year agreement to fund the institute into August of this year. "That's part of the terms of reference of the original grant .the Faculty of Arts will not be withdrawing funding from this institute for any political reason."

She said the faculty also funds two other institutes, including the Institute for Public Economics and the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. "There are many points of views represented here and we intend to keep it that way," she said, adding the position of the Parkland Institute is "very different from the point of view represented by the Institute for Public Economics."

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