The Fall of the Faculty: A Case Study of University Governance at UBC

Piece of Mind

This post expands on a talk I gave at a Conference on University Governance in the 21st century, which was held in Vancouver on March 3-4. My session was concerned with: Duty to Whom? Institutional Loyalty and Collegial Governance, which will be the subject of my next post. In this first part, I show how university governance as practiced at UBC is used to marginalize the faculty. Almost a year has passed since 800 faculty members at UBC voted non-confidence in the actions of the Board of Governors. Reforms, promised then by the Chair of the Board, Stuart Belkin, are yet to be announced, let alone implemented. The Board secretariat remains unchanged, its controversial shadowy ways intact, resisting and stalling FOI requests by the Faculty Association and others. The Chancellor is still in place, unmoved by a humiliating vote of non-confidence in his chairing of the presidential search committee…

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Salient points of Daniel Heath Justice’s letter of resignation from the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee in response to Furlong’s reinstatement

Dear Professor Ono,

I read with dismay the announcement yesterday that John Furlong has been reinstated as a UBC fundraising speaker. … There were many responsible and compassionate ways this matter might have been handled that would not have once again silenced or erased the abuse allegations of dozens of people from the Lake Babine First Nation — some of whom I understand have contacted your office and have received no response — but the result of UBC’s press releases has been to do precisely that, and to once again undermine the hard work that so many of us have undertaken at this university to do ethical, accountable work in relationship with Indigenous communities.

Given these events, I am sad to say that I cannot continue to serve with integrity on the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee. It is impossible to do so given that the Committee’s good work has been so deliberately and significantly survivor-centred; this reversal undermines the credibility of that process and further alienates a broader community that is already deeply concerned with the University’s handling of these matters. This saddens me for two reasons: first, it means that no one on any of the sexual assault policy work is Indigenous, which is a significant gap considering that our community is statistically far more likely to experience sexual, gender-based, and racialized violence than any others in Canada, and second, it means stepping away from a group whose members have demonstrated incredible commitment over the last year and who, I believe, have undertaken deeply meaningful labour in the face of growing and demoralizing skepticism within and beyond the institution. I regret that my departure may create difficulties for them and their efforts, but after consultation with members of my community and significant reflection, my priority must be to support under-represented Indigenous voices on these matters, and I believe that a viable and legitimate survivor-centred approach to sexual assault cannot stand with integrity alongside this deeply troubling decision. At least not for me.

… I hope you will give the remaining Committee members every possible level of support to make the meaningful change that we so desperately require at UBC on issues around sexual, gender-based, and racialized violence — especially for Indigenous peoples on our campus…and in our province. It will take a great deal of effort to undo the damage of this decision.

Sincerely,

Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice is Chair, First Nations and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) at UBC, Professor, FNIS and English, and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture

Shaking up the UBC Board of Governors

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Month after month of bad press in local and national media outlets didn’t do it. Petition after petition asking for transparency and accountability from the governors and the managerial class didn’t do it. Eight hundred faculty members voting non-confidence in the Board of Governors didn’t do it. And the jury is still out on whether even a new president with a reportedly rock star status and a de-facto strengthened mandate can do it. But we still see one glitter of hope for our university.

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Demanding Due Process at UBC: Beyond Social Media Wars in the Galloway Case

As an outsider, I find it depressing to see the Canadian Literature community tear itself apart over the open letter on the Galloway case rather than using the letter to come together over their evident common desire. (The letter is here; a response letter by Lawrence Hill is here; there are many other responses.)  I understand that the original open letter could be much better.  It is possible to read it as suggesting that the evidence of lack of due process comes from the result or that justice is due only to Galloway.  It is regrettable that the letter has caused additional pain for people in the UBC Creative Writing Department and strife for that Department. 

For all its faults, the letter does call for due process.  Everyone in the CanLit community and everyone at UBC has an interest in knowing that due process was in fact followed in this—as in any—case involving allegations of misconduct and the eventual firing of personnel.  In this case, many people, whether they speak on behalf of the complainants or on behalf of Galloway, have suggested due process was not followed.

Now we are seeing a social media war within the CanLit community.  Meanwhile, UBC itself sits on the sidelines and watches that community inflict damage upon itself.  Marsha Lederman’s reporting has quoted from a four-paragraph statement from VP External Affairs Philip Steenkamp on UBC’s handling of the case.  I have seen that statement only as screen shot attached to a tweet from a local reporter; as far as I can tell, it has not been sent to any faculty or students at UBC.  Why is UBC again talking to the press but not to its own academic community?

The issues here, as has become depressingly common at UBC, are these:  We don’t know what level or nature of allegations trigger an investigation at UBC; we don’t know how processes of evidence gathering are set up in those investigations; we don’t know what standards of evidence are followed.  In the case of Galloway, we don’t know what the original allegations brought to UBC’s attention were or what the findings of the investigation were; thus, we don’t know what findings triggered the decision to fire Galloway; we don’t know why those findings warranted firing for “breach of trust.”  That’s a partial list of the known unknowns.

UBC claims not to be able to provide any of this information due to “confidentiality” concerns.  It is not at all clear that the reasons for firing of an individual for “breach of trust” at a public institution are not in the public interest to know.  (Steenkamp’s statement seems to admit that it is in the public interest.) Thus, it is not at all clear that, under the BC Privacy Act, confidentiality pertains in this case at all.  In any case, “confidentiality” seems at UBC a euphemism for “secrecy.”  If UBC doesn’t figure out a much more robust and compelling internal as well as external communications strategy, it is going to leave more and more communities—at UBC and beyond its walls—in tatters.

Meanwhile, CanLit community, can you do everyone at UBC a favour?  Can you have a ceasefire in your social media war for long enough to agree that the reason you are fighting is that no one knows why UBC took the actions it did and in the absence of such knowledge no one has any reason to trust the process that led to those actions? Reports from witnesses and complainants give us more reason not to trust that process—which itself seems to have caused additional harm.

I’d like to do more than believe survivors.  I’d like to help survivors and to help prevent actions that would lead to more people becoming survivors.  As a faculty member at UBC, I have no take-home lessons I can use in the Galloway case.  I have no idea what actions UBC finds to be a breach of trust; I have no idea what UBC even thinks happened.  I cannot do my job better because of UBC’s handling of this case.  I can, however, do my job worse: I can (from fear of processes I don’t understand and due to concerns about ripping apart my own community of scholars) withdraw into my office, look the other way, shrug my shoulders, try to stay out of harm’s way.  Keeping my head down easy for me—another one of those privileged middle-aged white men with tenure—and much, much harder for those who really do need institutional protection and justice.

Dispersing the Cloud at UBC: Thoughts on UBC’s Sexual Assault Policy

UBC’s consultation period on the draft sexual assault policy concludes in a few days.  The results of that consultation will be important inputs into fulfilling the BC government’s mandate that all universities and colleges in BC have such a policy.  The end of the consultation period comes, as it happens, at a depressing time.  Nearly every revelation or innuendo in the current US Presidential election for the past month has reminded us of how sexually predatory powerful men can be.  Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Anthony Weiner form a cornucopia of sexual horridness.  More locally, UBC’s handling of the Steven Galloway case has been extensively reported upon in this weekend’s Globe and Mail; in the absence of the facts of the case, members of the UBC community can’t know how to read the allegations or the actions taken against him.

I am, of course, almost entirely ignorant of the facts in the Galloway case—how could I not be, when maintaining the community in a state of ignorance seems to be among the University’s goals?  Allegations made about the conduct of the investigation in the Globe and Mail article are, however, deeply troubling.  In the absence of a more official account, including the Boyd Report itself, the Globe article will be the circulating story.  I am myself particularly troubled by the allegation that some who understood themselves to have been called as witnesses in the investigation were then construed as complainants.  Everyone who speaks at an investigation needs to have a clear, consistent, and agreed-upon role.  (I am sad to say that I find this allegation plausible, given my experience in other types of investigations at UBC.  Many years ago, I was called as a witness at one such UBC investigation and when I arrived I was, in essence, told that I was to be presenting the case for the defense.  I declined.)

The expert panel on sexual assault, whose report was finally made public recently, has asked the sexual assault policy be placed in a larger context.  What follows are four recommendations regarding that larger context:

  1. Rather than a narrow sexual-assault policy, UBC should have a consensual or non-coercive sexual behaviour policy. This would solve two problems.  First, there are lingering concerns that, since sexual assault is a criminal matter, universities should not use administrative justice to make determinations about it.  Universities are not in fact doing that, but use of a different term can allay such concerns.  Second, sexual assault is at the extreme end of a variety of behaviours that UBC should find troubling.  We have every right to expect better behaviour than simple refraining from assaulting others.  The University of Ottawa pub crawl might not have involved assault (I don’t know) but it surely involved peer coercion and misogyny (as has the social media response).
  2. Policies and procedures must always align with core academic values. Among the most troubling aspects of drawing the curtain of confidentiality so tightly around so many recent cases at UBC is that it leaves the UBC academic community without any idea what the truth is.  This is troubling in the specific cases; for example, if we have no idea how Galloway “breach[ed] trust,” then how can we as professors and students know whether our behaviour is putting ourselves or others at risk?  But it is also troubling in general—because our community is organized around creating, communicating, and preserving knowledge.  To be told routinely by our administration that there are crucial things we are not allowed to know conflicts with our fundamental commitment to knowledge.  No one wishes to air dirty laundry, but if there is no way to discuss without embarrassment or liability why a President resigned or a professor was fired, something is terribly wrong.  We are practiced and, indeed, subtle in our handling of the truth.  Trust us.
  3. UBC must stand against nonconsensual sexual behaviour as a matter of the mutual respect we need to have for one another in order to be a community dedicated to knowledge production, communication, and preservation. Nonconsensual sexual behaviour expresses lack of respect for the humanity of another and it instills fear (dread, loathing, humiliation, etc.) in that other person.  These are not proper social conditions in which the academic community can fulfil its function. Of course, all communities should foster respect of all for all; my point is that our academic mission and values give us an additional reason to demand such respect.  No person who lives in fear or pain can function to the best of their ability in an academic community; no person who disrespects the autonomy of others is discharging their intellectual responsibilities to our community.
  4. We must have a firm empirical grip on our community and its history and design our policies and procedures in the light of such knowledge. North American universities have poor records of fostering respect for women or for members of sexual- or gender-identity minorities (among other groups).  Moreover, most of our students are young adults who are often experimenting sexually (and in other ways); such experimentation is not something we should try to discourage but something they need to understand requires consent and mutual respect.  Also, sexual assault policies should not ignore those aspects of campus culture such as party culture and sports culture that—not necessarily but all too often—work against mutual respect.  In other words, what UBC needs, while it formulates its policies and procedures, is an open and informed discussion that begins from and respects the knowledge we have about the interconnection of problems of sexual behaviour with other aspects of campus life and the history of universities, including our own.  Languishing UBC documents (such as this one regarding rape culture and colonialism and the University’s response) that bear the fruits of intersectional research should be prominent in these discussions.

A university goes from excellence to eminence by solving its problems in an exemplary way, offering a model that other universities will emulate.  Until UBC learns both to care for and rely on the intelligence and good will of its academic community, this goal will remain elusive.

 

 

Saving Senate from itself

Much has been made at UBC on the subject of governance, sparked by such diverse issues as the sudden resignation of Arvind Gupta, the violation of academic freedom that occurred in the aftermath of the resignation, the university’s non-response to complaints of sexual assault, and the handling of a petition to ask for divestment from fossil fuels.

Most of the discussion has been focussed narrowly on the Board of Governors and senior administrators, since it is within their ambit that this series of unfortunate events lies. A vote of non-confidence in the Board was held, and more than 800 faculty members voted to censure the Board for its perceived failures.

But largely forgotten in the discussion are the facts that UBC is a bicameral institution, and that the UBC Senate is is endowed by the University Act with expansive powers to manage the academic affairs of the institution. In principle at least, the Senate is one of the routes that faculty have towards self-governance. One is led to ask, therefore, whether the state of governance at Senate is any better than it is in the university at large. Regrettably, the answer seems to be in the negative, and many of the problems seem to be common to the university as a whole.

Dysfunction at Senate came to light this week by way of a motion tucked away on page 148 of the docket for the meeting scheduled for September 14th. This item contains a list of 4 names advanced by the Senate Nominations Committee to be members of the search team for the new Provost and VP Academic, as mandated by UBC’s Policy 18. The four persons named on the list were a current Dean  (as required by policy 18), a former Dean, a current Associate Dean, and a member of the Senate Nominations Committee responsible for producing the list in the first place. In other words,  two administrators, a former administrator, and a person who nominated himself. No student was selected, despite the fact that student representation is explicitly mentioned in Policy 18, and neither was any rank-and-file faculty member. The list was produced without any broad call for candidates, either within Senate, or to the university as a whole.

Fortunately, consideration of this list was postponed by President Ono, who has asked the Senate to solicit nominations for his advisory committees from the community. In a further — and most welcome — development he also expressed, in his comments at Senate, his desire to conduct an open search for the Provost, and to give the community the opportunity to interact with the candidates. One can only hope that such a process is indeed adopted, and that Professor Ono’s demonstrated commitment to transparency becomes part of the culture at UBC.

A closer look at the powers of the Senate Nominations Committee and at the way it is established, is revealing by way of contrast. The Nominations Committee is responsible for setting the membership of every other Senate committee, and for nominating Senate-selected persons to university wide searches for such persons as the President, Provost, or other senior administrators. In some very real way, it is the most powerful of all the committees on Senate, in as much as it gets to decide which Senators have roles in such key committees as the ones dealing with academic policy, academic disciple, or the agenda committee, the last of which determines which issues are or are not considered in Senate.

So who gets to be on the Nominations Committee? Does it nominate itself? The Senate website is largely uninformative on this point. But, as it turns out, the committee is elected on at the very first meeting of a newly constituted Senate — its membership is determined by vote prior even to the first meeting. While the exact procedures are obscure, it appears that the nominations and voting take place in the summer prior to a new Senate being struck, and before the new members of Senate have even met or interacted with the people whom they are supposed to elect. It is hard to imagine how such procedure is compatible with even the most elementary notions of good governance. Forming the most important committee of Senate when Senate is in recess, and prior to formation of the new Senate, seems designed to be perversely antidemocratic and to suppress broad participation.

Predictably enough, the nominations generated by this committee are not the sort that inspire confidence. The same names show up multiple times on many of the important internal senate committees, and in this year’s round of nominations to the various external searches, many large constituencies, such as the Faculties of Science, Law, Education, and Commerce have no representation whatsoever. The questionable practice of naming people serving on the nominations  committee itself to the committees it is supposed to populate also seems to be accepted.

Sad to say, the Senate, is just as much in need of a governance review as the rest of the university. It appears to be run under arcane and arbitrary and undemocratic procedures, which are not documented and which live in the folklore of the administrators charged with running the system. This is a UBC-wide phenomenon — there are few documented procedures for managing such basic issues as access to information, conflict of interest, or public accountability, and little credible oversight, leading to major decisions and processes being conducted in inappropriate and ad-hoc ways. Certain individuals occupy key adminstrative roles for extended periods of time (decades, in some cases), and inevitably, institutional inertia sets in.

This pattern can be seen repeating itself in many of the issues cited at the beginning of this post — such topics as managing the university president, or handling sexual assault are inherently delicate and complex, but it is abundantly clear that the problems were amplified by poor decisions around process and communication. At the end of the day, university actors such as Board members or Senators presumably try to follow the rules (in as much as any rules exist) so the first step to good governance is to carefully consider the basic operational framework in which the Board and Senate operate, and to set clear and public standards for accountability, fairness, accountability, and transparency in administrative processes. Points of administrative weakness (and I would suggest that poor communications and general indifference to due process and the public interest are high on that list) should be identified, and appropriate remedies put in place. Poor governance is not a Board issue, or a Senate issue — it is a UBC issue, and our whole administrative  culture is infected.

UBC’s new president is not a mathematician, but …

Piece of Mind

The last time I saw the fabulous Frances Bula, she said that she liked my tweets whenever I commented on mathematics and mathematicians. I think she really meant for me to leave the rest of the news and analysis to her and the pros. However, thanks to Stuart Belkin, I now have a chance to do both. I mention the Chair of the UBC Board because I hear that –fortunately I must say– he is the one in charge these days, including of the presidential search.  The remarkable choice of Santa Ono (yes Santa!) as UBC’s 15th president is nothing but a victory to those among us calling for a renewed spirit of research excellence, academic freedom, diversity, decency, humanity and fair-play among the UBC leadership, be it mid-level and up.

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