U of T, a drug company whore

By Michael Leung

September 23, 2014. Bullets scream through the air above. I’ve been in this putrid, rot-ridden hole for over three years, and things have only gotten worse. They have continuously weakened our lines; forward positions now mix with their fronts in a thousand places. These fronts are thus extremely dangerous; support to such places is ghastly thin. I expect to perish soon.

How much power does money convey? Enough to sway an entire institution whose mandate is academic expression and education?

Such was the case last week. University of Toronto President Robert Prichard publicly apologized for letters he sent to Prime Minister Jean ChretiƩn and several other cabinet ministers on behalf of Apotex Inc. At issue are recent federal changes to legislation which, according to Apotex Chairman Dr. Barry Sherman, create more hoops for generic drug makers before they can bring their product to market. In response to the legislation, Sherman mobilized the support of Prichard and several other U of T officials; he also communicated with other hospitals in the Toronto area. In his letter, Prichard urged a 30-day extension of the review on the legislation.

Now consider the amount of money involved. In addition to a $20 million commitment to the university’s new Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, Apotex was also negotiating further donations which would bring the total to $55 million–the largest corporate donation ever in Canada.

Thus, universities have become battlegrounds pitting academic freedom against the mounting need for financial relief. Corporations who wield godlike amounts of money and power seek to invade the last sanctities where profit is foreign. Over the last few years, we’ve experienced this corporate invasion on our very own campus. Here, you can purchase your generation’s identity in the form of a soft drink. Here, black gold fuels the creation of faculties and in exchange, corporate logos are more notable than campus art. Here, lines between education and corporation blur into oblivion.

Prichard is among our first casualties, one of the first to fall to the siege. In this time of fiscal restraint, universities will have less and less ammunition to defend their academic liberties. Soon, they may crumple under the assault and surrender to the pursuit of profit

Universities used to be accountable to the public interest, but now accountability lies with its corporate supporters–whose motive is primarily profit In fact, Apotex previously withdrew funding for Dr. Nancy Olivieri, another U of T professor, after she publicized adverse effects of deferiprone–an Apotex-developed drug. Olivieri felt she was not supported by administration during the conflict.

So what does friendraising mean? Getting in bed with the enemy? It is a sad fact that a university’s president must appeal to a corporation for financial aid. The most ideal situation would be for the public to realize a university truly is in the public’s interest, and thus make its government provide more than enough for its childrens’ education. Without something short of a miracle, however, this will always remain an ideal.

September 23, 1999. As I leave campus today, I can’t help but think my post-apocalypse vision is already in full swing. One day, I realize, a diploma might only represent a corporate badge, like some macabre souvenir of an amusement park. It will bear the phrase “Congratulations on graduating from Pepsico Inc.” Universities are perhaps one of the last great fronts still free from obscene corporate intrusion. Yet, more stories like Prichard’s will arise, more academic freedoms will be compromised for the need of money.

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