From Professor Leah Keshet
What’s happening at UBC is very bad, bad for our university and for our province. It looks bad to those in the UBC community, to British Columbians, and increasingly, internationally.
For someone looking from far away, recent events resemble a lynching: a small self-selected “posse” run their victim out of town for being – shall we say “too uppity” – or was it for not “respecting their authority.” Last time I saw that plot-line, it was in a movie called “Mississippi Burning.” Hard to believe that this could happen in British Columbia, let alone at an institution of higher learning that is among (if not THE) top universities in Canada. But it is totally galling that it happens in an institution that prides itself on being open, transparent and fostering diversity and inclusiveness.
From closer up it looks even worse. That’s because the “race card” has nothing to do with former President Arvind Gupta being chosen. He was simply the best man for the job, and the treatment he received cries out “FOR SHAME”!
Dr. Gupta has always been, and continues to be, one of us: a faculty member who knows the faculty, the academy, and our mission from the grassroots level. Like the rest of us, he spent years training before earning his first faculty position. Like us, he knows the challenges of supporting young students, of undertaking research and publishing, of seeking research funding, and of nurturing and training the researchers and thinkers that will make this province great. He knows the ins and outs of classroom teaching from personal experience.
Beyond that, he has shown vision in creating and leading MITACS, an organization lauded across Canada and around the world for fairness and transparency. As UBC president, he was intent on refocusing the university on teaching and research, which are its primary missions. In other words, he saw the university through the eyes of the faculty and students. Apparently this did not align with certain Board members who were more in tune with administrators, intent on protecting their turf. This was his undoing.
So I ask you: whose university is this anyway?
Are we more concerned with protecting the status quo, promoting the needs of administration even at the detriment of our students and faculty? Are we worrying more about a “bottom line” propagated by a bureaucracy removed from our classrooms and labs? Or are we an academic institution charged with fostering an environment of excellence in our students and in our research programs?
And who speaks for the future of this university? Do we only welcome the views of business people who sit on the Board of Governors, drowning out all other voices? Or do we also open our ears to the faculty and students who are intimately involved in carrying out our mission?
For months after Gupta’s forced resignation, the UBC administration hid the reality behind a smokescreen of “confidentiality.” BoG members, and even Deans and their associates, stonewalled when we asked for clarity. (Our Senate, over time, has become stacked with these stone-wallers, as Senate meeting minutes demonstrate). A search for a new president was launched even while we were prevented from learning lessons that could be applied to that search. It is unconscionable that those in charge, the Board of Governors, took steps to block any path for us to question why the previous president was gone.
The recent “redaction-gate” fiasco has done wonders to lance open this festering wound. It has revealed that the actual events surrounding President Gupta’s resignation were essentially “intrigue,” carried at the highest levels, by self-styled “ad hoc” secret subcommittees who took on a vigilante role.
Recent chatter seems to implicate the provincial government in some of what transpired. This adds further disappointment to what has been a shocking and demoralizing year. Yes, this looks very bad for UBC, honourable premier. But we are forced to ask why we aren’t seeing leadership from our elected officials and from our Premier. You spoke about the critical role UBC plays in building a knowledge economy at the recent Tech Summit so we know you “get it.” If we don’t get UBC back on track, your own vision will be in jeopardy.
As an ordinary faculty member, one of the masses charged with carrying out the university mission, I teach, do research, and carry out service to further the interests of my department and my university. In over 25 years of university life, with literally thousands of students taught, I have been content to carry out my lowly role, letting others carry on the big mission “up there” in the Halls of the Higher Administration.
But now …
I have lost my trust in those administrators.
I have lost my trust in the Board of Governors.
I have no trust in the presidential search committee, whose members include the same vigilantes. We can hardly expect a fair and just outcome in their hands.
Premier Clark, I ask you to do the right thing. Please, set this dismal process straight. Restore President Gupta to UBC, and quash those secret conspiracies. I want to maintain my trust in you.