Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney answers questions following the sod turning for Mulroney Hall.

ANTIGONISH: Despite criticism from a professor, the university has refused to apologize for donations received for a new building on campus.

Recent news reports list Wafic Said, Victor Dahdaleh, Wilbur Ross, and David Koch as donors to StFX University’s Mulroney Hall, a multi-million dollar project on the Antigonish school’s campus for which the former Canadian Prime Minister helped fundraise.

Said helped broker a $74 billion deal between a U.K. company and Saudi Arabia which a mid-2000s investigation discovered may have included kick-backs to Saudi officials. Dahdaleh was confirmed by the Panama Papers as part of a $400 million bribery scheme. Dahdaleh faced charges in Britain but was acquitted in 2013.

Ross, the U.S. commerce secretary, was shown to have a stake in a business which received $68 million from a Russian energy firm co-owned by a member of Vladimir Putin’s family. Koch helped fund the U.S. Tea Party movement.

Both Said and Dahdaleh received honourary degrees from StFX after offering donations.

Pictured at the sod turning for Mulroney Hall are (from the left): Kerry Prosper, Elder, Paqtnkek First Nation; Dr. Susan Crocker, Chancellor of StFX; Sean Fraser, MP for Central Nova; Labi Kousoulis, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education; Brian Mulroney, 18th Prime Minister of Canada; Dr. Kent MacDonald, President and Vice-Chancellor of StFX; Annie Sirois, President of StFX Student Union; Mike Boyd, Chair of StFX Board of Governors; Dr. Karen Brebner, StFX Dean of Arts; and Randy Delorey, Minister of Health and MLA for Antigonish.

Peter McInnis, chair of StFX’s History Department, said he feels the school generally does a good job when it comes to receiving funding.

“When we get to projects like the [Brian Mulroney Institute of Government], which has a price tag around $60 million, you start getting into challenges finding that money and there is some serious questions raised about some of these donors,” said McInnis. “Maybe we need to scale these projects back a bit or fundraise a bit longer. It may not be doable if that’s the money we want to take.”

When asked what accepting this money says about the school, McInnis said accepting funding for projects is not uncommon for universities.

“But I think in our case, because we want to talk about… the Coady International Institute and the idea of social justice and just being responsible citizens for this community in Northeastern Nova Scotia, then we should be really cautious about just taking any money,” McInnis said. “The Koch family, for example, are very, very clear about what they want the money to go to, and it’s things that I think are anti-democratic.”

McInnis called discussion on the topic healthy, noting some people will say not mention anything to hurt the university.

“I think the question has to be turned around to ‘did the university actually do something to hurt itself,’” he said.

“Through [Mulroney’s] leadership and relentless personal participation over the last six years, StFX has been successful in raising the funds, not only for a new facility, but also for much-needed endowments to support academic programming and student scholarships and bursaries,” stated StFX president Dr. Kent MacDonald.

Previously, MacDonald said the $100 million Mulroney Hall and Xaverian Gardens project would not be possible without Mulroney’s help. Of the $100 million, $50 million is going towards Mulroney Hall $10 million for scholarships and bursaries, $10 million for endowed chairs, and $30 million for the Centre for Innovation in Health. Mulroney Hall, which will include the Brian Mulroney Institute for Government, is set to officially open in May, 2019.

The release from the university goes on to explain Mulroney took on the challenge to fundraise at the university’s request.

“Although most fundraising campaigns at Canadian universities have a significant administrative overhead cost, in this case, every dollar raised by Mr. Mulroney flowed directly to StFX, ensuring millions of dollars in administrative savings,” stated MacDonald. “Beyond his personal time, we are also grateful to Mr. Mulroney and his family for making a substantial personal contribution to this fundraising campaign.”

As for some of the names listed as contributors, MacDonald mentioned, that Said’s foundation “supported the creation of an endowed chair position that will be focused on women’s empowerment and leadership,” which MacDonald described as an area of strength for the university. MacDonald also said he personally admired Said’s commitment to higher education and support of students and refugees.

MacDonald stated Dahdaleh’s generosity has widened access to StFX for underrepresented students, including Indigenous Canadian and African Nova Scotian students, adding the gift from Dahdaleh’s foundation “will open doors to students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to obtain a quality education at StFX.”

“As an educator, I believe there is no more powerful way to improve society than to educate its citizens,” stated MacDonald. “On this point alone, the StFX community has benefitted because of the philanthropy of Mr. Said and Mr. Dahdaleh, and the campaign leadership provided by Mr. Mulroney. We are honoured by their commitment to enrich the lives of young people around the world.”

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was at an official opening ceremony for Mulroney Hall.