A controversial University of Alberta billboard advertisement touting a benefit of climate change would never have been approved if proper processes were followed, the university’s president said Sunday night.
President David Turpin said he reluctantly accepted the resignation of vice-president of university relations, Jacqui Tam, on Sunday after she said she approved the research advertisement. The president and other vice-presidents did not see it for approval.
“I felt the ad should have been vetted by the executive team and I’m pretty sure it never would have seen the light of day,” Turpin said.
The university is in the process of removing billboard advertisements that read, “Beefier barley: climate change will boost Alberta’s barley yield with less water, feeding more cattle.”
It was based on research from 2017 that found Alberta barley would grow better and require less irrigation if the climate was warmer and wetter.
The ad appeared in Edmonton days before youth, including U of A students, participated in a global climate strike to protest governments’ failures to take more aggressive action to slow climate change.
University spokespeople did not immediately know Sunday where and in how many places the billboard had appeared.
“When I first saw it, which was on Thursday, I could understand why people interpreted it the way they did,” Turpin said. “It would not have been an ad that if I had seen, I would have put forward.”
In a statement posted Sunday on the university’s blog, The Quad, Tam said the public’s interpretation of the ad as promoting climate change shows the billboard “fails to communicate the meaning and complexity of the research.”
“The messaging on the ad called the reputation of the University of Alberta and its extensive research on climate change into question. As vice-president (university relations), I apologize for this and take responsibility,” she said, adding she was resigning immediately from the institution
Among the critics of the campaign was the university’s dean of agriculture, life and environmental sciences, who said on Twitter Thursday he couldn’t support the way the university’s promoters framed the research in the billboard.
Some alumni posted online about how they were “embarrassed and disappointed” by the message.
On Thursday, the university had posted a defence of its “Truth Matters” campaign on The Quad blog, saying it was seeking to highlight the complexity of some research underway at the university.
“Different, even divergent, approaches are pursued by researchers across the University of Alberta; this is necessary work, even when it challenges expectations and assumptions,” Tam wrote Thursday.
Turpin said he’s unsure whether the fiasco had affected the university’s reputation as an institution that takes climate change seriously. Many told him the ad did not reflect the good work researchers do on novel power generation techniques, climate change adaptation, smart grids or oilsands remediation, he said.
“Climate change is real, it’s happening and as a society, we must adapt,” he said.
He’s asked the university to review its advertising approval processes to determine what went wrong, he said.