McKenna endowment stirs excitement, debate

Frank McKenna donated $1 million to STU for the communications department (Cara Smith/AQ)
Frank McKenna donated $1 million to STU for the communications department (Cara Smith/AQ)

The communications department at St. Thomas University received a major boost when Frank McKenna gave a $1 million endowment to support the Frank McKenna Centre for Communications and Public Policy. This is the largest endowment STU has ever received.

Michael Camp, associate professor of journalism, says the endowment will provide opportunities like guest speakers, conferences, research, and potentially a chair for the communications department.

“When you get a contribution as big as this from someone like Frank McKenna it’s hugely helpful for future fundraising,” Camp said.

McKenna is a former premier of New Brunswick and is now the deputy chair of TD Bank.

“However you may feel about Frank McKenna, he was a pioneer in the art of political communication in this province.”

Camp says the department decided to focus on communications as it relates to the formation of public policy. He says this is because virtually every level of government engages in some type of consultation with the public.

Mary Lou Babineau is the president of STU’s faculty association, FAUST.

“Typically when there is some kind of public, or private, or corporate endowment, it comes with a donor agreement. So the content of the donor agreement becomes crucial in protecting the university against some of those negative points,” Babineau said.

She says if the donor agreement is not done well then independent inquiry and research can become limited or discouraged.

“If a certain department is the recipient of a lot of donations, other departments who do not attract that kinds of funding, like the humanities, like a philosophy department, they can become marginalized. So they don’t get the same building, they don’t get the up-to-date state-of-the-art facilities. The university will itself deviate more of their own core funding towards the program that has all this external funding to help promote the university as a whole.”

Carleton University came under fire last year after receiving $15 million for its political management school from Calgary businessman Clayton Riddell. The Globe and Mail reported that the donor agreement said $10 million of his donation depended on Riddell’s satisfaction with the program after five years. The Clayton H. Riddell School of Political Management was created at Carleton in 2010. Forbes ranked Clayton as the 12th richest Canadian with a net worth of $3.1 billion in 2013. He is the CEO of Paramount Resources and is part owner of the Calgary Flames.

Babineau says the faculty association has requested to see the donor agreement to see what provisions will protect faculty. She says they have a strong collective agreement which will help professors keep their independence in research.

Camp says the new major in communications and public policy is about working towards a better society where there’s a better connection between the people and the government.

“There are many degrees of separation between these endowments and what we teach. We’re not pushing anyone’s agenda.”

McKenna has not given this large of a donation to any other university, even though he graduated from St. Francix Xavier University.

“We want people to come out of this program and find jobs working for various sectors of the government, NGOs, or communications firms that specialize in shaping public opinion.”

The program will draw on courses from other departments such as political science, philosophy, and criminology.

Babineau says New Brunswick universities could function without endowments if the provincial government had affordability and accessibility of education as one of its top priorities.

“Universities are facing economic challenges and so alternate sources of funding outside of traditional government funding and tuition funding which are the two main sources can bring benefits in reducing pressure to increase tuition,” Babineau said.

Camp’s father is Dalton Camp, the journalist who the Dalton Camp Endowment at STU is named after. This endowment provides the annual Dalton Camp Lecture and the Irving Chair in Journalism.

“It’s allowed us to bring some of the best journalists in the country to visit us for the better part of a semester every year and we’ve had an incredible range of people.”

Camp hopes this endowment for the communications department can provide similar opportunities, like an annual lecture.
“I think that we want to be known as the university for undergraduate communications policy studies in this region and we want to be the best.”

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