MAC: Mines and Communities

Student leaders boycott degree for Inco boss

Published by MAC on 2005-10-27

Student leaders boycott degree for Inco boss

October 27, 2005

One of MAC's editors - and a graduate in environmental science at St John's Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada - has put together the following report on protests against Inco last month when the company's CEO got an honorary degree.

The Memorial University Students' Union and the Graduate Students' Union boycotted the fall (autumn) convocation last week because of the awarding of a honourary degree to Inco CEO Scott Hand. Hand was booed by students when he got up to speak while other students walked out. A student refused to shake the university president's hand in protest.

Television, radio and Internet media covered the protests and convocation controversy. Student activists with the Society for Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility (CESR) handed out hundreds of Inco degrees to attendees of the ceremony. A campaign 'No More Silence, Dr. Meisen' targeting the university's administration to take a stance on Inco's abuses is underway.

Pressure mounts on MUN's President Meisen to answer allegations of human rights abuse by partner Inco as CEO receives honorary degree

Society for Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility - Memorial University of Newfoundland Chapter - FOR IMMEDATE RELEASE

Thursday, 20 October 2005

St. John's - For years now, students, faculty, and staff have been up in arms about Memorial University's partnership with the Canada's largest nickel mining company, Inco. Now, as Inco's CEO Scott Hand is awarded an honorary degree at a convocation ceremony (Friday, October 21, 10:00pm at the Arts and Culture Centre), pressure is building on MUN's President Axel Meisen, to make a statement regarding the allegations of Inco's human rights abuses in their operations in Indonesia, New Caledonia, and Guatemala.

Memorial's University Public Relations have skirted the issue for sometime now, but a recent column in the Newfoundland newspaper, The Independent, directly challenges Dr. Meisen to make a statement, and has become a rallying point for people on campus looking for a straight answer from the administration.

"The main problem of getting Dr. Miesen to speak on the human rights abuses," Laura Molyneux, an organizer for Memorial's Society for Corporate and Environmental Responsibility explains, "is that there are so many other things wrong with this relationship. Environmental issues, privatization issues, academic freedom issues. The administration has come up with statements for all of these issues, but has stayed silent on the allegations of human rights abuses. Now, we're demanding a straight answer from them".

Student Union President to Boycott Inco's CEO Ceremony

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Student's Union (MUNSU) is also opposed to the relationship, and more specifically, to the granting of an honorary degree to the Inco CEO. So much so that MUNSU President Cletus Flaherty is officially boycotting the ceremony (as approved by the MUNSU council, unanimously). "Memorial's own by-laws say that these awards are to 'recognize an extraordinary contribution to society or exceptional intellectual or artistic achievement.' Scott Hand, the figurehead of a company that has been associated with human abuses, hardly meets this criterion. There are too many questions surrounding Scott Hand and Inco. I believe conferring a degree upon him at this time is doing a major disservice to MUN and its graduates."

The official association of human rights abuses comes from a 1999 United Nations Truth Commission report that states Inco's Exmibal nickel mine was directly involved with the killings of Guatemalans including academics, and labour leaders. Many other abuses have and continue to be committed, but none as high profile.

"It's easy to buy a university building," Laura Molyneux asserts, referring to Memorial's newest building, the Inco Innovation Centre, "all you need is money. But to practically sell an honorary degree - as a supposedly credible university - what does that cost us? If the administration can't be accountable to its students, its faculty, and even to its own bylaws, if it's can't defend their partner's action or their own action (of inappropriately awarding the degree), then to whom, is Dr. Meisen and his administration accountable?"

For Media Enquiries contact: Chad Griffiths, CESR Organizer at: (709) 691 1985

Graduate Students' Union boycotts MUN Convocation

GSU Press Release: Graduate Students' Union boycotts MUN Convocation

Graduate Students' Union of Memorial University of Newfoundland News Release

For immediate release

October 21st, 2005

The President of the Graduate Students' Union at Memorial University of Newfoundland will not be attending a session of convocation at which Scott Hand, Chief Executive Director of Inco, will be awarded an honourary doctorate from Memorial University of Newfoundland.

"Giving Mr. Hand an honourary degree tarnishes the reputation and credibility of the university," said Leisha Sagan, Vice President of Communications and Research of the Graduate Students' Union. "We congratulate and commend all students convocating. This was a decision that was not taken lightly given that convocation is a celebration of students' hard work and personal academic achievement. However, giving Mr. Hand an honorary degree shows disrespect by the university to the outstanding achievements of its graduates."

The official convocation procession regularly includes representation by the Graduate Students' Union, which is comprised of 2200 graduate students at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Inco has been widely condemned by international, national and community groups for its poor environmental, social and human rights record. Students' groups at Memorial University have condemned the corporate partnership between Memorial University of Newfoundland and Inco, which led to the construction of the Inco Innovation Centre.

"We are concerned about the university's corporate agenda with Inco. Increasingly, corporate partnerships with universities across Canada have resulted in questionable results, and researchers being stifled when their results did not agree with the goals of their corporate sponsors," said Sagan.

For more information contact:

Stefan Jensen
President of the Graduate Students' Union at Memorial University of Newfoundland
(709) 737-4395

Leisha Sagan
Vice President Communications and Research
Graduate Students' Union at Memorial University of Newfoundland
(709) 737-4395 or (709) 689-5657

Convocation Controversy

October 21, 2005

Some seven hundred graduate and undergraduate degrees will be awarded today as Memorial University holds its fall convocation at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre. Inco chairman and CEO Scott Hand received an honourary doctor of laws degree this morning while Labrador community activist Elizabeth Penashue will be honoured tonight. Several professors will receive the designation 'professor emeritus' during convocation including Dr. Derek Burton, Dr. Philip Gardner, Dr. Richard Haedrich, and Dr. Joseph Hodych.

The president of Memorial University's Student's Union didn't attend today's convocation ceremony. Cletus Flaherty says MUNSU voted to boycott the event, because they disagree with giving an honourary degree to the head of Inco. Flaherty says Inco has a bad record on human rights and the environment.

Student leaders boycott degree for Inco boss

Oct 21 2005

CBC News

The students' union at Memorial University will boycott convocation ceremonies Friday because the university is awarding an honorary degree to the top executive at Inco Ltd.

The Memorial University of Newfoundland Student' Union (MUNSU) says it's inappropriate to present an honorary doctor of laws to Inco chairman and chief executive officer Scott Hand because of the company's record on environmental and human-rights issues.

EXTERNAL SITE: Memorial University: Convocation

"Mr. Hand really is, individually, underwhelming, and we think that the culmination off all this, put together - does a disservice to the university," said MUNSU president Cletus Flaherty.

He says the award speaks poorly to the university's view of corporate accountability.


"I think it cheapens, in fact, the accomplishments of the real graduates who will be convocating there," Flaherty said.

A spokesperson for the university says it stands behind the decision to award Hand the honorary doctorate.

The boycott means student representatives will not take part in Friday's official convocation procession.

Inco Ltd. is the owner of Voisey's Bay Nickel Co., which has developed the giant nickel and copper find in northern Labrador.

Inco has long been criticized for its environmental record, for both its domestic and international operations.

Memorial University Honouring Hand of Inco While Ignoring Hurt of Many

Letter to Editor, October 27, 2005

Inco CEO Scott Hand received a honourary degree from Memorial University at this year's fall convocation. Besides celebrating being honoured at Memorial, Mr. Hand recently forged a takeover of Falconbridge that will make Inco the largest nickel mining company in the world. Inco probably has or will have more offices and holes in the ground in countries around the world than most countries have embassies. Memorial may as well be honouring the Queen of England.

But should one who has climbed the ladder of a mining company that has books and films documenting its pollution, union busting, cozy relationship with dictators, and cancer stricken nickel refinery workers be awarded with anything but dishonour? Did the Inco Innovation Centre gift to the university boot out the Queen and other potential contenders for honorary degrees this year and nullify the fact that the soon to be honouree makes his living from a company that is still one of Canada's top mining polluters, in the midst of labour, community and environmental protests in Indonesia, Guatemala, and Kanaky-New Caledonia, and a multi-million dollar clean-up of contamination at part public expense in Ontario?

Memorial students and alumni are also finding it hard to stomach that the former Thompson Student Centre, a building built for and by students, has been largely replaced with a research and development centre for a multinational mining company.

While a hunger strike was ending in Indonesia in protest of Inco, Memorial and Inco's top brass including Mr. Hand officially opened the Inco Innovation Centre with fine dining alarmingly to the exclusion of students. The irony continued into that evening during a panel discussion on 'innovation' that featured several photographs of Albert Einstein as one of the world's most notable innovators. Einstein was also a man who fled Hitler Germany at a time when, as confirmed by a court in the Nuremburg Trials, Inco nickel was being sold to the Nazis for military-political reasons. Today, Einstein is more than welcomed in the centre that Inco built while Inco continues to enjoy the profits reaped from wars.

I wonder what Einstein would have said if he were alive today or would he paint 'paradox' on his house like the farmer in Indonesia who has been disenfranchised from his fertile land for the Inco golf course and now struggles on a small garden plot on the outskirts of the well irrigated golf course.

Regarding Memorial's response or lack thereof to the student concerns aired at the Inco Innovation Centre official opening, I ask if an abuse occurs against a person, a community, or nature and only one person or ten people complain, does that make the abuse fine for everyone else to ignore? A university is an unlikely home for a 'ignorance is bliss' shield.

The many Canadians who came forward during the second World War and asked that the Canadian government stop Canadian Inco nickel from being sold to make weapons used to kill Canadian soldiers were also in large part incredibly ignored by the powers that be. But a chapter was written then just as a chapter is being written now at Memorial University where stands were taken and not taken.

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