Guest submission: The Trouble with Billionaires by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

By Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Excerpt from: Toronto Star, September 10, 2010

Full article can be found at:–excerpt-the-trouble-with-billionaires-by-linda-mcquaig-and-neil-brooks

On the campus of the University of Toronto, buildings bear the names of some notable Canadians: among them, literary giant Northrop Frye, public health pioneer John FitzGerald, inventor Sir Sandford Fleming, who introduced the concept of standard time. But the buildings named in honour of important intellectual figures typically date back more than three decades. In more recent years, campus buildings have been named almost exclusively after those whose distinguishing characteristic is the possession of lots of money.

There’s a reason for this. As universities have lost government funding in recent years, they’ve turned more and more to private donors. Universities are now heavily in the business of fundraising, devoting huge effort to wooing wealthy alumni. And the effort has paid off. In the past five years, U of T has collected an average of $120 million a year from benefactors.

In exchange for money, donors get their names on plaques, or auditoriums, or even whole buildings if they donate enough. The result is that affluent businessmen are honoured and commemorated throughout the university. Particularly prominent at U of T for instance are merchant banker Joseph Rotman, pharmaceutical entrepreneur Leslie Dan and businessman Peter Munk, chairman of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company.

But if the university has become a showcase for the wealthy, there’s apparently no room at the university to honour someone who is the closest thing we have in this country to a genuine hero. A group of U of T professors found this out when they approached the university in 2007 with the idea of naming the Health Studies Program after Tommy Douglas …

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