Bush conspiracy theory heats up at U of T
By Brendan Howe
A new explanation for granting an honorary degree to former United States President George Bush has emerged at the University of Toronto but both corporate and university figures insist it is not true.
Heather Murray, professor of English at U of T, said speculation between people in the university is that the reason Bush was offered a degree was because of his relationship with a very influential, Toronto businessman.
Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Barrick Gold Corporation Peter Munk is a frequent patron of U of T and Murray said she finds it hard to believe there is no connection between his relationship with Bush and the degree.
"Everyone I've talked to believes that's why Bush got the degree. Everyone knows there's a connection," she said.
Bush is the honorary senior advisor to an international advisory board for the Barrick corporation. However, he respects Munk as a person but that is the extent of their relationship, Bush's spokesperson Jim McGrath said.
He also said on the same day Bush receives the degree, Nov. 19, he will be participating in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new international centre for which Munk is playing a large part in financing. McGrath added the events are not concurrent.
Vincent Borg, VP-communications for the Barrick corporation, said Munk is planning to make a substantial contribution to the university. He said the donation most likely will be composed of both a personal contribution by Munk and a corporate donation by Barrick.
Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney will probably attend the ground-breaking ceremony as well, said McGrath, adding Mulroney is on the board of directors of Barrick. "Bush loves Mulroney like a brother. They have an extremely close personal relationship."
Wendy Cecil-Cockwell, vice-chair of the governing council and member of the honorary degree committee, said the accusation of a correlation has been flying around but is not true.
"You cannot draw a cause and effect line between those facts," Cecil-Cockwell said. She added the governing council is not a group of people who are easily led they study and discuss every decision they make very carefully.
She said Bush has received over 50 degrees including ones from notable universities Yale and Harvard. The nomination for the Toronto degree came as a result of Bush coming to speak at the university but was not the only reason for the honour, Cecil-Cockwell added.
Sue Bloch-Nevitte, director of public affairs at Toronto, said they are honoring Bush for his role as U.S. President.
Murray said she does not believe Toronto should be giving an honorary degree to Bush. "I'm very concerned about the corporate agenda beginning to contaminate the honorary degree process at this university," she said.
Cecil-Cockwell said it is not out of the ordinary to honour someone like Bush. She added Mikhail Gorbachev came to Toronto in 1993 and lectured on the same topic which Bush plans to (the cold war) and he was awarded an honorary degree as well.
The Students' Administrative Council at U of T decided this month that their official position is against granting Bush the degree.