The University of Western Ontario’s intransigence in awarding an honourary doctor of law degree to notorious abortionist Henry Morgentaler may wind up costing it as much as an astounding $50 million in lost donations from alumni. Such a loss has the potential to disrupt London, Ont.’s economy as a whole. And as of this writing, 10,000 people had signed an online petition at www.uwoprotest.com against the award. (Latest updates on the situation can be found at that website.)
These developments promise to set up an interesting showdown when UWO is scheduled to confer the degree on June 16 at 10 a.m. Pro-life supporters are expected to show up en masse to make their views known. UWO psychology professor Paul Whitehead, meanwhile, says he plans to walk in a peaceful vigil in front of Alumni Hall that morning beginning at 9 a.m.
“I, and those who join me, shall not picket,” he said. “Our presence will not be to delay, deter or discourage anyone from attending the ceremonies. Rather, it is a way of indicating disapproval for the university’s choice and to let those who may be attending, but feel somewhat uneasy about it, know that they are not alone.”
The imbroglio began when UWO announced Morgentaler would be one of 10 individuals – fervent pro-abortion feminist Doris Anderson is another – who will be honoured at spring convocation. In an official statement, the institution described him as “a humanist leader who has promoted the idea that persons have a right to control their own sexuality and reproduction, without interference from the state.”
It handled the issue of his lawbreaking in performing illegal abortions in the past by suggesting, “He challenged the Criminal Code.” Catholic Insight magazine editor Father Alphonse deValk, however, didn’t mince words in denouncing Morgentaler as “the greatest mass murderer in Canadian history.”
The university insists its decision in the matter is final. However, others disagree and say the institution can change course. “Western’s senate has no policy against revisiting and reversing decisions. It can be reversed,” reported www.uwoprotest.com.
The Roman Catholic bishop of London, Ronald Fabbro, jumped into the fray with an open letter to UWO president Paul Davenport. In it, Fabbro called the award to Morgentaler “inconceivable and appalling.” He added his “very strong objections to the decision to confer an honourary degree on Dr. Morgentaler.”
London Free Press columnist Herman Goodden reported that he knows of dozens of retracted donations to UWO, including at least one cancelled bequest in excess of $2 million. With matching provincial and federal funds, that actually amounts to a $4 million loss.
More recently, Don Thain, professor emeritus at UWO’s Ivey Business School, described the situation as “the worst public relations nightmare in the entire history of Western.” He fingered Davenport for nearly all the blame.
“This was his idea, his proposal, and he stick handled it through the senate, knowing that the senate had an undemocratic procedure. Davenport was trying to be a trendy agent provocateur and he didn’t have the common sense to see what he was getting into.”
Thain made the estimate that the situation may end up costing UWO as much as $50 million. The chair of UWO’s board of governors, Don McDougall, meanwhile, said in an open letter to the university community that the honourary degree will “depreciate the honour, adversely affect fundraising… (and) do irreparable harm to the university.” He further charged that the process followed by the senate honourary degrees committee was “corrupted” and, as a result, committee member Joan Francolini subsequently resigned.
McDougall also accused Morgentaler of advocating a “form or eugenics.”
About 250 people, watched by police and campus security, protested quietly outside Davenport’s residence on May 15. Among them was retired Western professor of pediatrics Dr. Barrie DeVeber, who said the honour for Morgentaler was “a terrible insult. I don’t know what got into their heads.” Another protest was held on May 18 outside UWO’s board meeting.
An online poll by London radio station CFPL has found 88.3 per cent of respondents are opposed to Western’s conferral of a degree on Morgentaler.