Below are notes from the UBC Vancouver Faculty Forum on Wednesday, January 27, organized by the faculty representatives elected to the Presidential Search Committee. The forum sought input from the faculty about the search and took place before former President Arvind Gupta talked about his reasons for resigning.

The faculty expressed concern about the governance of the university and the legitimacy of the current search process. It suggested that serious reform is needed, that the presidential role, the role of the Board of Governors, and governance practices must be clearly outlined before recruiting the next president. There was agreement that an external candidate is required, consistent with the message from the Faculty Association. Those present unanimously requested a faculty forum with the short-listed candidates, consistent with AAUP guidelines. There was also recognition that UBC has not always been so dysfunctional, and that with reform in its governance and a supported president, it can return to a period of pride, optimism, and prosperity.

In Attendance: 42 Faculty Members, PSC Faculty Representative Professor Jennifer Berdahl, Board of Governors Secretary Ms. Reny Kahlon.

Call to Order: Jennifer Berdahl, 12:06PM

Welcome and thank you all for coming and making sure that faculty have a strong voice in the selection of our next president. We have an hour. I’m the only faculty rep on the PSC who could be here today, the other two are out of town. Reny Kahlon from the BoG is also here. Alan Richardson, Professor of Philosophy, will moderate the meeting. He was a candidate for faculty rep on the PSC.

Many faculty have contacted me seeking to provide input. The purpose of this forum is to make sure we’ve left no stone unturned. Faculty participation in the town halls was poor. There was a suggestion that we have a faculty-only forum, it’s collegial to listen to each other and discuss. Other options are to send email to your faculty reps, Faculty Association, or PSC.

At its core, the university is defined by the faculty. We build its reputation for research and teaching and attract the quality of its students; the continuity and quality of the university is vested in us. We are the longest serving members of the university with the longest views of it. To be successful, the next president needs the support of the faculty.

I have a few questions to bring forward for consideration in this discussion:

  1. What do you think are the key challenges, opportunities and priorities the next president will face?
  2. What kinds of qualifications (e.g., background experience) and characteristics (e.g., values and leadership style) are important for our next president?
  3. What role should faculty play in the selection of the next president? For example, the AAUP has shared some advice on the role faculty should play in the selection of a president, such as public forum and meeting with the faculty.

When you speak, please introduce yourself.

Alan Richardson, Professor of Philosophy, moderates.

Alex has a microphone. We hope to have a nice discussion among faculty. Please be brief while still saying what you want to say.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

What is the status of the search at this point?

My brief comment would be that the incoming president should be someone of ambition and vision, someone unconstrained by any provincial mindset.

It would be good for faculty to drive the academic direction of the university.

We should drop “A Place of Mind” from our university. A leading university does not need a slogan. “Tuum est” is enough.

Issues like the land use plan….we have an enviable asset with our endowment lands. Perhaps because of composition of the Board, the aim seems to be on current income rather than on longer term goals like recruitment and retention of faculty members.

I know some people want a submissive, obedient leader. We need someone who can take on UBC Properties Trust and advance.

Berdahl

The search committee is just finishing the consultations with various stakeholders. A position profile and a job ad will soon be released. There are no candidates yet. We’ve not gotten there yet.

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

The accidental leak of documents today shows a serious breach of the Board members into the management of the university. This is a structural issue. Mr. Montalbano’s own notes, his instructions, his meetings, his coordination of a select internal group show that direct instructions were given to Professor Gupta. How is it that these corporate personnel were selected to give direction to Dr. Gupta? This deliberate and direct intervention by the BoG into the president’s office means that nothing will be fixed putting a new person in that place. No matter what we bring forward to you, we will continue to get the same situation. Conflict and disruption is systemic. We’ll either end up with a compliant president and “steady-as-she-goes,” or another conflict and cover-up. Perhaps they will only do a better job keeping the records off the books.

If there was one value, I’d like to see front and center and more than just a slogan, it’s the academic mission. The academic mission should be the core agenda of the university. We should not be running a municipality, unless this is clearly linked to the core academic mission of the university. We need investments in research and focus on support of our mission.

When you look at the names of the BOG members over the last decade, you find the social linkages among them, that they represent one narrow band of people in BC. Their primary interest and focus in the development of real estate property and investments. This might be great for corporations, but this focus stultifies the university. How can a president make effective change when we have this narrow band of people running things?

We need to suspend this presidential search.

[APPLAUSE FROM THE ROOM]

Full Professor, Faculty of Science

I agree. The faculty has lost respect and trust of the administration. The process is clearly flawed. The kind of leader we need is precisely someone like Arvind Gupta…someone who puts teaching and research front and center. The process is tainted. We have no chance.

Full Professor, Faculty of Medicine

We have a damaged environment here. The issues appearing in the newspapers everyday are damaging morale. The sexual assault issue is terrible. We need a better environment, with respect for individuals, not sexual harassment. People do not feel safe, it is not a safe place to learn or do research.

Transparency is key. No more redacted documents. Ridiculous. As a public servant, there should be no privacy or confidentiality protecting our president. We need accountability.

Full Professor, Faculty of Applied Science

There was a letter by the Faculty Association suggesting a renegotiation of the contract to get rid of the confidentiality clause. The problem we are facing was a president who left early in his term. Same thing happened in Applied Science a while ago. No mission can be accomplished if the candidate cannot fulfill their term. How can the search committee make sure the next president will stay for their full term?

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

Hypothetical scenario…a friend says “I’m thinking about applying for the presidency at UBC, is it a snakepit?” I don’t know what to say. Will there be enough support to make it possible for the next president to succeed? This is a real burdensome task to convince applicants. Can we tell a story that will convince candidates?

Full Professor, Faculty of Science

I question whether UBC believes that faculty and students are the heart of this university. That is actually a controversial statement in some quarters. Perhaps the university and the search committee needs to address the core mission rather than looking for someone who will keep the investments and property development chugging along. People will say “of course, faculty and students are the core” but the evidence shows otherwise.

Faculty Member, Faculty of Arts

The next president will need to address the status of contingent faculty on campus.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

There is a real sense of demoralization, futility, that the system is broken. It doesn’t matter what we do. Failure of the search is inevitable. What can we do? Several people have said we should cancel the search. Who initiates the process of the search? Do faculty have any say on whether we should go forward, what is the role of the faculty to intervene?

Berdahl

I’ve only been on this campus for a year and a half. What should we do as faculty? If there is this much demoralization, what role should the FA play? What should we do? How should the search go forward. Martha Piper is leaving on June 30. We need input.

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

We are limited by the Province’s control of the BoG. A vote of no confidence on the BoG would indicate strongly our desire for a change of Board. We should all push our networks for accountability and transparency.

Another problem here is the “Dumb gap.” This isn’t Watergate level espionage, just dumb. We can push for no confidence, and be more public.

I hope the next president has a deep understanding of this place and our mission. We have a lot of high level visions but a president who can’t speak to those will be hamstrung locally. Place and promise speaks to this place. I did not see deep engagement with first nations in President Gupta’s presidency.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

We should make sure that we don’t repeat the same problem as what happened with Gupta. We first need to know what happened. Embarking on another search otherwise seems pointless without first taking care of the structural problems. The search costs a lot. It’s demoralizing. Make sure there’s no confidentiality clause with the next president.

Full Professor, Faculty of Science

To me, for the search to succeed, it must develop a clear picture of the job description. The info that’s been released makes it clear that the role of the president and the BoG was not clear during tenure of last president. Any candidate needs a clear statement on how the BoG is going to support and endorse the president, needs to know that the BoG and the president have correct structural relationship.

On the subject of the University Act, I have some doubts on the steps that led to the creation of the committee that led to Gupta’s resignation and the creation of the PSC. There is not enough information to validate whether the creation of the PSC was consistent with the University Act. Was its creation legal under the University Act? If not, it does not even have the authority to hire a president. What were the statutes that gave rise to this committee? Given the closeness of people who formed the Presidential Search Committee to the events with Gupta, there are important questions that need to be addressed.

Full Professor, Faculty of Science

We’re looking for a new president for whom words are tools for communicating. Words appear to be viewed by others as strategic devices to achieve a goal.

I think it’s critical we bring someone in from outside. Internal candidates are unacceptable. FULL STOP. Look through the pool internally. We used the best one. Any other internal candidate is second best at best, by definition. The class of administrators may be fundamentally tainted. At least the outsider we will eventually settle on, their past lives may not be any of our business and a fresh start may be good. Insiders definitely have pasts that are our business but their stories are all redacted.

[LAUGHTER]

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

Whoever the new president is should be someone who can distinguish settling old scores vs. dealing with real unfinished business and making structural changes.

Redactions, non-disclosures, have had a negative effect. Has the new BoG made any commitments to abandoning non-disclosure agreements? Are there any structural guarantees that the search committee has sought from the BoG? Some of the burden of proof leading to a productive relationship between the BoG and President need to be made, guaranteeing the BoG won’t push them out, get the BoG to say “we will commit to this.”

Full Professor, Faculty of Science

That’s a bit like asking the wolves not to eat the rabbits….I kinda doubt that will happen.

There is evidence that people want to hide the mess. Is there a way to force their hand?

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

Seems like the university is run by a legal team concerned with corporate protections, not academics. We need a president who can engage law in the academic mission of the university. We need close scrutiny of UBC legal.

Full Professor, Faculty of Science

The documents disclosed today reveal meddlesome behavior by the BoG in the presidency, private meetings with John Montalbano, Greg Peet, and Lindsay Gordon. Those people who took action to remove the previous president are now selecting the next one. Along with Martha Piper those same people wrote a hit piece on our colleague and my spouse.

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

Should there be a faculty forum to meet the candidates? I would welcome that opportunity. I think most people would like to see that happen. I vote YES for a faculty forum.

Berdahl

Can I see how many people want that with a show of hands?

[UNANIMOUS.]

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

This could be a short-term problem, a 3-4 year turn-of-events, just a handful of people responsible? Toope did a good job. He took the well-being of the faculty seriously. He did a great deal to enhance our global recognition.

It will be good to have a Canadian as the President who knows our unique and distinctive culture. Maybe what’s happened is not going to be a long-term problem. It was functioning well a while ago…there are of course questions as to why Toope did not finish his second term. There was a good period of prosperity.

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

We have some evidence before us. It does speak to a systemic on-going issue. There may have been a change. The development structure, financiers, Brad Bennett and Birgit Bennett, UBC Properties Trust, local & regional real estate should be seen as the people who actually run this university. Effective and formative decisions in running the university are being made by a group of people with a jaundiced view of us as intellectuals and academics. The people who hold the responsibility for the university have this type of view and this is a real problem. Something needs to be changed by legislation so BoG is made to act with best interest of the university.

This particular job search will not affect these fundamental structural problems. I’d like to see someone on the BoG who is involved in the unionized trade sector, someone who works on the ground to address the housing situation, some business people, active alumni…but that’s not what we see right now. The south campus development on endowment lands, the international students, and other issues ….

I speculate that Arvind Gupta was looking carefully at the books and this may have generated the problems with his presidency. We went 10-20 years of not having a president worry about or understand the financial numbers. I don’t really have any hope that this process will change much. We need someone with integrity.

I do ask our colleagues how we can make this place better.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

What can we provide to help the search committee? The next president will need to pay more attention to the problems on the campus, not just focus on the global outreach.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

We’ve discussed many things that go beyond the presidential search. We may want to have a faculty forum in which we can discuss systemic issues at the university. The demoralization comes from these issues. We seem to feel that no matter who the next president is, the situation will not improve. Faculty feel vulnerable. We don’t like learning things about our university from the Vancouver Sun. I’m feeling very disconnected from our faculty. Discussing those together will be a big help.

Unidentified Faculty Member

Being a university president is a difficult job. UBC is not so unique in that. This is a great time to take stock, we might still find someone.

Richardson

I second the idea for more discussions among faculty members about things we care about. We need to understand what the BoG and senators think their job is. We should reach out to our senators, our faculty reps, and others to make sure we have a shared understanding.

Berdahl

I’ve taken notes and I will bring this information back to the PSC. I like the idea of having a faculty forum. Others are interested in that. We should get that going – and take back our university.

~

Notes Sent Directly to Faculty Reps from Faculty Who Could Not Attend the Forum

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

I won’t be able to make it to today’s meeting, but very briefly: especially in light of what we’re learning today about the relationship between Gupta and the BoG it seems to me that we have major, major issues with the current role, composition, and scope of the UBC BoG that should be looked at very critically before bringing a new pres into this.

I’m really concerned that we’re either going to get someone who is going to tow the BoG line, or get bullied out of office again.

Senior Instructor, Faculty of Arts

I’m teaching during that timeslot, but would like to offer the article below as food for thought. I’d like to see that the next president is someone who values our university’s teaching mission alongside research, including supporting funding, hiring, and careers of people who are dedicated to teaching excellence in the Educational Leadership track. At minimum, the next president should be well-versed in the merits (as well as challenges) associated with this track that the university has committed to.

http://chronicle.com/article/What-Leaders-Can-Learn-From/235011/

Canada Research Chair, Faculty of Medicine

Unfortunately I couldn’t attend today’s meeting. I have been getting one impression that I would like to share. Since I joined the Faculty of Medicine in 2010, it seems that bureaucracy and administration have taken over this University. It appears that the academic component of UBC and the faculty serve the administration instead of the other way around. I may be wrong but if I am not I think this is something that should change.

Full Professor, Faculty of Arts

My point concerns academic freedom in research, teaching, and other academic activities. Much has been said on this already; I simply add my voice to the chorus. The new President should do more than state the importance of academic freedom in general terms (I am sure that all candidates will do so eloquently): she or he should have specific ideas on how academic freedom can be actively cultivated in public universities like UBC.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Science

UBC has increased its student intake consistently over the last decade (or more) in order to make up for shortfalls in provincial funding. This means departments are teaching more students than ever before – leading to larger class sizes, less direct contact between faculty and students, rising dissatisfaction for both students and faculty, and loss of precious research time.

At the same time, many departments are being told that they are “in deficit” as resources are not flowing from the faculty level to the department level. A president needs to understand these pressures – ideally by having been in the classroom in recent past – and be equipped by the BoG to ensure that resources flow to the front-line where they are needed. How will you, as a faculty rep (or other PSC member), ensure that candidates understand these pressures and be empowered to alleviate them?

 

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