By Jessica Lovell
An attempt by outgoing University of Guelph president Alastair Summerlee and outgoing provost Maureen Mancuso to start a new university in Brampton while they were still in their respective positions is not being regarded as a conflict of interest, because they were simply shopping for their next job.
“One could think about this as applying for another job,” said Chuck Cunningham, the university’s assistant vice-president of communications and public affairs.
“This is just a little bit more public than that.”
The university didn’t learn about the plan until after it became public at a Brampton city council meeting in June, Cunningham said.
Mancuso and Summerlee presented at the June 25 special council meeting, along with Centennial College president and chief executive officer Ann Buller.
The three were partnered on the project, which envisioned Brampton as a host municipality for a brand new university with an initial enrolment of 300 students that was to grow to 10,000 students in the first 10 years.
They planned to submit a proposal to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities under its call for major capacity expansion proposals for post-secondary institutions.
“This was an idea that Maureen and I hatched,” Summerlee said in an email in response to a Tribune query.
“We have both come to the end of our terms and believe that Ontario needs a new type of university.”
Summerlee and Mancuso approached Centennial because they have a long-standing connection with the president of the college, and when they approached Brampton “the chemistry was immediate,” he said.
But when they made the presentation to city council and submitted the subsequent letter of intent to the ministry, Mancuso and Summerlee were both still serving in their respective positions at the U of G.
In fact, they were both instrumental in developing the university’s own plan to submit a proposal for expansion of its University of Guelph-Humber campus in Toronto, said Cunningham.
Summerlee’s signature is on the U of G-Humber’s letter of intent which, along with the Brampton university proposal, was among 27 such letters submitted to the ministry.
Mancuso was travelling out of the country and was not available for comment.
But Summerlee – responding via email while travelling in the Kalahari Desert – said Tuesday they were both aware of the potential for conflict.
“Both Maureen and I declared the potential conflict of interest,” Summerlee said.
“We had informed the senior administration at Guelph, including the incoming president and the chair of the board. We also confirmed through independent legal advice that our position was not in conflict.”
Inquiries to board of governors chair Dick Freeborough were directed to Cunningham.
He stated that Freeborough learned of the Brampton U plan on June 26, after the June council meeting but before the ministry’s June 27 deadline for notices of intent.
Inquiries for comment from new U of G president Franco Vaccarino were also referred to Cunningham.
Vaccarino was not yet in his new role when he received an email from Summerlee mentioning the Brampton plan on June 23, and he doesn’t recall when he read it, said Cunningham.
But when U of G administration learned of Mancuso and Summerlee’s plan, they felt comfortable that it was not an issue, he said.
“It should be expected that somebody coming to the end of their term would be looking for a new opportunity,” Cunningham said.
While the U of G-Humber plan – which would see an expansion to accommodate an additional 5,600 students – will advance to the detailed proposal stage, the Brampton U plan will not get beyond the initial letter of intent.
“Initially the government officials encouraged us to proceed . . . then the government seemed to change its direction and reinforced the original plan that the applications for new money could only come from currently established universities,” said Summerlee.
Because the Brampton proposal was never affiliated with the U of G and had no other university connection, it died there.
The question of whether the two proposals, should both have been allowed to advance, represent a conflict of interest is one the university is not answering.
“I’d rather not comment on the hypothetical,” said Cunningham.
But he noted if their Brampton proposal had gone forward and been successful, “both Dr. Summerlee and Dr. Mancuso would have had to end their association with the U of G.”
Summerlee, who had said he planned to return to teaching at U of G after his administrative leave, agreed a successful Brampton U proposal would have changed that plan entirely.
“I would have resigned my position from Guelph and been full-time devoted to the University of Brampton,” he said.
Both Summerlee and Mancuso are on leave but remain on the university’s payroll.