UBC reinstates John Furlong as keynote speaker

Former Vancouver Olympics CEO had been removed because of complaints about his controversial past

John Furlong was CEO of the 2010 Olympics organizing committee

The University of British Columbia (UBC) today announced that it has reinstated controversial business leader John Furlong as the keynote speaker at the 18th annual ZLC Millennium Scholarship Breakfast on February 28.

The event is intended to raise money for annual and endowed scholarships for UBC’s varsity athletes.

The university had cancelled Furlong’s appearance because of student complaints related to unproven allegations that, between 1969 and 1972, Furlong had abused aboriginal students in Burns Lake and Prince George while he was a teacher at schools.

Anti-sexual-assault activist Glynnis Kirchmeier, in December, was one UBC Alumnus who objected to the university’s decision to have Furlong deliver the upcoming keynote address.

Kirchmeier sent multiple tweets about the matter, including one to UBC president and chancellor Santa Ono to try to convince the university to reverse its decision.

On December 22, UBC contacted Furlong’s office to cancel his appearance at the breakfast.

That prompted much buzz in various media for the rest of 2016, with many people saying that because none of the allegations had been proven it would be unfair for the university to punish Furlong.

On January 3 – the first workday of 2017 – UBC released a statement from Ono saying “UBC made this decision in good faith, but without proper consideration of its potential impact on Mr. Furlong or his family. While this decision was made without my knowledge or that of the UBC Board of Governors, I deeply regret this error and have apologized to Mr. Furlong on behalf of UBC. We do so again here.”

That apology laid the groundwork for the university’s January 9 declaration that Furlong, again, would be a keynote speaker at the February 28 breakfast.

“UBC and I have apologized for our handling of this matter publicly and directly to John Furlong and his family,” Ono said in a January 9 statement. “With today’s decision we are making right the fundamental wrong at the heart of the issue: a well-intentioned but incorrect decision to cancel John’s speaking engagement in the first place.”

Furlong spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade has said that Furlong would be paid a speaking fee “well into the five figures.” He plans to donate that speaking fee back to the university’s athletes.

“I consider participating in this event both a privilege and an honour. I'll do my very best to deliver an address worthy of this community celebration elevating student athletics and the power of sport,” Furlong said in a January 9 statement.

“I'm deeply grateful to the countless Canadians who overwhelmed my family and I with heartfelt support during these past two weeks. It’s been very humbling and helped immensely in keeping spirits up.”

gkorstrom@biv.com 

@GlenKorstrom