Donors, alumni pushed UBC to rescind Bishop O’Grady’s honorary degree early in review process, FOI shows

Emails received through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed donors and alumni calling for Bishop John O’Grady’s honorary degree to be revoked immediately following the beginning of the review. The award has been in review since late May.

Several of the messages — sent to the President’s Office and the Development and Alumni Engagement Office between May 31 and June 4 — said the senders may not associate with the university going forward if the honorary degree was not revoked quickly.

“I have to question if I as a [redacted] if I wish to remain associated with UBC. I will take time to allow all to reflect on this decision,” said one sender. Identifying information about the senders was redacted in the FOI.

“I feel I have no choice but to suspend my next donation to the Endowment fund until I know that Mr. O’Grady’s honorary degree has been revoked,” wrote another.

An extraordinary meeting of the Tributes Committee was held on June 4 to discuss O’Grady’s award. The meeting materials included “three community comments” but it is unclear whether donor concerns were specifically addressed.

['auto'] Screenshot from the FOI

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Heather McCaw, vice-president of development and alumni engagement, said alumni and donors have been given information available in a Senate Tributes Committee statement from June 10.

['auto'] Screenshot from the FOI

An ongoing process

At the Senate’s September 22 meeting, senators discussed O’Grady’s honorary degree but did not make a decision on the award. The Senate voted to halt the awarding of honorary degrees until the Tributes Committee completes a review of the entire process.

On December 15, Senator John Gilbert announced the Tributes Committee had established a subcommittee focused on revoking honorary degrees. The subcommittee met for the first time on December 2. O’Grady’s award will be the first examined, but the subcommittee could establish precedent for further revokements.

McCaw confirmed the anticipated end date of the Tributes Committee review process to be Spring 2022. She acknowledged concerns over O’Grady’s award, but emphasized the importance of a detailed review process.

“It’s clear the question of who receives honorary degrees is of concern to many in the UBC community, including alumni and donors. That’s why it’s important the Senate Tributes Committee is deeply and objectively examining the issue,” she said.

['auto'] Screenshot from the FOI

Co-Chair of the Student Senate Caucus Eshana Bhangu says she and the other student senators-at-large are unhappy with the length of time the review is taking.

“Why is this not being treated as an urgent issue as it should be? We saw a lot of talk when the news first broke … I just don’t see a lot of action since then”

Regarding the donor emails, Bhangu said they reflect poorly on the Senate’s approach to the issue.

“It’s pretty shameful for the university … they should have been much more proactive in rescinding the degree.”