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Schulich’s weighty endowment

The Faculty of Law is no more. After a $20 million donation from Toronto oil and mining magnate, Seymour Schulich, set to be announced as early as Oct. 15, the faculty is to be rechristened the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law.

If the name sounds familiar, there’s good reason. As of May 2008, the National Post reported that the billionaire businessman and philanthropist had donated in excess of $250 million to post-secondary institutions in Canada alone. Entire faculties at York University, Western, Calgary and McGill bear his name.

But Schulich’s generous donations haven’t been without controversy.

Most recently, in 2006, students at the University of Western Ontario protested Schulich’s $26 million donation to their school of medicine and dentistry.

“He has no link to health at all except that he has been directly responsible or slightly removed from the responsibility in the destruction of a lot of people’s health,” Western medical student Tarek Loubani told Western’s student newspaper, The Gazette.

Controversy has centred around Schulich’s involvement with the Newmont Mining Corporation, the world’s largest gold producer, and with the Canadian Oil Sands Trust.

Newmont Mining’s practices have come under heavy scrutiny in places like Peru, Indonesia, Ghana, and Romania, where the company has at different times found itself embroiled in disputes with indigenous peoples and NGOs over issues of human rights and environmental degradation.

Schulich was the director of Franco-Nevada Mining Corporation when it merged with Newmont, and he retained a significant stake and influence in the new company.

In Ghana, Newmont faced allegations of displacement of farmers and land appropriation. As recently as this past summer, the Financial Intelligence, a private Ghanaian newspaper, accused Newmont Ghana of bribing local chiefs in an attempt to gain access to areas within the Ajenjua Bepo Forest Reserve.
In January, during an interview with the Financial Post, Schulich described his relationship with Newmont as that of “a consultant” to the company.

In 2006, while Schulich was Chairman of Newmont Capital, the mining corporation’s financial subsidiary, the company was forced to temporarily shut down its operations in northern Peru after peasant farmers blockaded a road in opposition to a proposed expansion of the company’s Yanacocha mine, the second-largest gold mine in the world. Farmers wanted to prevent further damage to streams and lakes in the area.

Here in Canada, Schulich is a major stakeholder in the Canadian Oil Sands Trust, a company that controls some 37 per cent of Syncrude Canada, the world’s largest producer of crude synthetic oil from oil sands projects.

Last year, the company made headlines when Greenpeace staged a demonstration to draw attention to the negative effects that Syncrude’s Aurora oil sands project was having on wildlife in Alberta. According to Pollution Watch, Syncrude is one of Canada’s worst polluters.

In an internal e-mail circulated within the law school this past week, Phillip Saunders, Dean of Dalhousie’s Law School, offered nothing in the way of background on the school’s generous new benefactor.

Saunders celebrated Schulich’s endowment, praising the donation for being “the largest ever provided to a Canadian law school.” He wrote that the greatest portion of the gift “will be dedicated to creating 41 new scholarships,” the first of which could be distributed as early as this year.

According to the e-mail, the endowment will also fund internships, exchange programs, clinical education (including Dalhousie Legal Aid), and will go to improving the law library’s holdings. The Weldon Law Building on University Avenue will also undergo renovations.

Saunders said students interested in discussing Schulich’s endowment could do so at a soon-to-be-announced meeting held by Dalhousie administrators. No date has been set for this meeting.

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