Stifling Academic Freedom: Who Knows?

Stifling Academic Freedom: Who Knows?

by Caroline Jenkins (Philosophy) and Jonathan Ichikawa (Philosophy)

Like many of our colleagues at UBC, we’re concerned about academic freedom. UBC’s governance crisis has contributed to a culture of fear. This week, Philip Steenkamp, UBC’s Vice President of External Affairs, asserted that we’re wrong to be concerned. “Categorically,” he told the CBC, “there is no such culture”.

We’ll take Steenkamp at face value—he genuinely believes there’s no culture of fear at UBC. But how would a Vice President of External Affairs know whether faculty members feel stifled? If they did, they wouldn’t speak up—so UBC’s higher-ups wouldn’t hear much about it spontaneously.

As is well-known to theorists of knowledge, one’s position in a power structure can affect one’s ability to know what’s going on. Just think of the sexist office culture of the 1960s. That sexism, undeniable in retrospect, was obscure to the men in charge. Don Draper couldn’t see what was obvious to Peggy Olson. This kind of ignorance is often recalcitrant: the privileged are motivated not to see certain things. As philosopher Charles Mills put it: “imagine an ignorance that fights back.”

Continue reading “Stifling Academic Freedom: Who Knows?”


Chronology of the decline and demise of The UBC Faculty Club

Chronology of the decline and demise of The UBC Faculty Club

By R. D. Dunn, M.A. (Brit. Col.), D.Phil. (Oxon.), UBC Professor (retired)

1957 – 1980 Preamble

1957 – Dr. Leon & Mrs. Thea Koerner’s gift of $600,000 for a Faculty Club

1959 – Lasserre (central portion) completed and opened; membership only voluntary

1959, July 15th Official Opening by Her Canadian Majesty, Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada

1968 – Erickson Wing (west, lower level kitchen and Cafeteria) opened, after additional gift of $700,000

1980’s – guest rooms added to northwest corner intended primarily for visiting academics

1985 – 1997 Administration of David Strangway

Sometime in early 1991, the Faculty Club’s board of directors, under Professor Aubke (Chemistry), decided the Club needed a new look in the hope that refurbishment might generate increased voluntary membership, increased use, and improved financial stability. No doubt they meant well, but their decision could not have been more ill-conceived, ill-timed, and, in fact, unnecessary because the original furniture was solid and in good condition, especially the handsome leather sofas in the Lounge side (east side) of the main floor. It looked like a Faculty Club. It felt like a Faculty Club. A fresh coat of paint was all it might have needed. Unfortunately and to make matters worse, they engaged a pair by the name of Henry Hawthorne and Tony Robbins who clearly had no idea of what a university faculty club should look like, no idea of an appropriate ambience, no idea of a sober and dignified setting. The result was a disaster, as can be read from an exchange of letters to and from Aubke, including mine. To their credit, Aubke and the directors themselves were dismayed at what they had wrought.

Continue reading “Chronology of the decline and demise of The UBC Faculty Club”

I Vote No Confidence in the Board of Governors because UBC is a failed institution

I Vote No Confidence in the Board of Governors because UBC is a failed institution

By Peter Wylie, Associate Professor, Economics, Philosophy and Political Science Unit, I.K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences, University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus

I believe that over the last 12 months or so the BoG has failed to meet the standard of the University Act that it act in the best interests of the University. I believe that in forcing the resignation of a new president just 1 year into a 5 year term the BoG has acted contrary to the best interests of the University. I am not sure in whose interests the Board has acted: The UBC Properties Trust? The senior administrators and deans? The corporate donors? Certainly not the University, its staff, students and faculty, whose interest was served in having a legitimate president.

What I see from the inadvertently leaked documents is a palace revolt, a coup d’état, a Star Chamber character assassination of a legitimate president without due process; akin to something that would occur in the worst caricature of a banana republic rather than a respected public university. A coup that is costing the University (i.e. the BC taxpayers) millions of dollars in contract payouts, acting salaries, repeated search costs, and massively more in non-financial terms in destabilization, destruction of trust, lost reputation and lost legitimacy in multicultural and multiracial BC and its flagship university (the current BoG and senior administration has returned to its post-colonial white supremacy). I see UBC as a currently failed and illegitimate institution, one that I am currently embarrassed to be associated with and will continue to be embarrassed to be associated with as long as it continues to admit no meaningful recognition of the abject failure of its BoG in the past year and takes no meaningful action to clean itself up.

I also have no confidence in the current presidential search since it is chaired by a chancellor intimately involved in the coup and attempted cover-up.  We have two of the co-principals in the coup down, Montalbano and Peet, one to go, Gordon. Normally as Meatloaf sang, two out of three ain’t bad, but all three need to go to give at least a semblance of legitimacy to the repeated search process.  A vote of no confidence in the BoG should, I hope, help this along as a necessary next step in what is unfortunately shaping up to be a long, torturous and painful process for all associated with UBC.

So for these reasons and until there is a finding-of-fact in a legitimate external review of the BoG actions in the matter of the forced resignation of the former president, and until Lindsay Gordon resigns from the search committee (and perhaps also the BoG and as Chancellor, not sure about that) I have no confidence in this institution or its BoG. I will also have no confidence in its selection for the next president as long the only assurance that he or she (and indeed the University) will have that a secret cabal of the BoG will not again begin to sabotage the term within a few months of it beginning will be that: “No we would not allow such a thing; that would be not nice.”

I have no personal or vested interest or association with any of the people involved (Gupta, Gordon, etc.). My disinterested concern is about process, not people. I am not a member of the UBC Vancouver math department or a FOG (Friend of Gupta). My main issue that it is embarrassing for me to be associated with an institution that has allowed its BoG to act in this way, and would prefer not to have to work under this cloud of distrust for my remaining few years of my career. I would like the University to properly address these critical issues forthwith and until it does it will be unable to rebuild my trust in it or enthusiasm for it. For these reasons I am voting No Confidence in the Board of Governors, to send this institution a clear message of my current dissatisfaction with it.

Why I Lack Confidence in UBC’s Board of Governors: Its Disrespect for Faculty

Why I Lack Confidence in UBC’s Board of Governors: Its Disrespect for Faculty

By Jennifer Berdahl, Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies, Sauder School of Business

There are many statements by faculty explaining why they lack confidence in the University of British Columbia’s Board of Governors. Our BoG is dominated by political appointees who represent a narrow band of British Columbians: wealthy business people who donate to the Liberal Party. Some of these appointees appear to break tax and FIPPA laws. Our BoG has little faculty voice: compare the 3 on our Board (15%) to the 12 on UofT’s (25%). Our BoG is unique among its peers in not belonging to the Association of Governing Boards,* which provides guidelines for best practices in selecting and training board members, managing conflicts of interest, and conducting business in a transparent and accountable way. These structural weaknesses of our Board undermine good governance at UBC.

But for me, it boils down to this: over the last eight months, our BoG has openly disregarded, disrespected, and disenfranchised the faculty of UBC. And it continues to do so now.

  • It did so when it ousted our president without due process, performance review, input from faculty, or explanation.
  • It did so by issuing “full confidence” in the Board Chair “and his leadership” after he participated in violating a faculty member’s academic freedom (mine).
  • It has done so by ignoring faculty input and voice into the current presidential search process.
  • It does so when it attempts to silence, intimidate, or belittle faculty who speak out about governance issues:
    • “It’s just a small group of mathematicians” when clearly it’s not.
    • “It’s just friends of Arvind” when faculty who didn’t even know him or like him as a leader are angered by BoG actions.
    • “It’s just 10% of the faculty” when it was 72.5% indicating no confidence in the presidential search committee of an unprecedented 31% who voted among those eligible.
    • “It’s just the disgruntled busybodies who don’t do research” when among the more than 500 who signed a petition for a vote of no confidence in the BoG are Distinguished University Scholars, members of the Order of Canada, Canada Research Chairs, and numerous Killam Prize winners. This rhetoric serves a view of faculty as factory workers: We shouldn’t worry our little heads about how the university is run, but should get back to publishing (who cares what as long as it helps the rankings!) and filling classroom seats to crank up tuition revenue and degrees conferred.
  • It does so when it claims that faculty are the ones hurting UBC by pointing out problems with governance. In other words, the harm is in pointing out the problems, not in creating them.
  • It does this by referring to the faculty as merely one of many “stakeholders” at the university, ignoring the fact that the faculty is the most important and longest serving of the university’s “stakeholders,” far more critical than the BoG itself, for the faculty alone is responsible for the university’s research and teaching that define its reputation.
  • It does so by refusing to respond to faculty concerns and requests for discussions about governance for months, and then giving faculty five minutes (!) to speak at a Board meeting at the end of the academic year in April. I guess it hopes we will go away when summer arrives and shut up once a new president is announced.

I have personally witnessed the disdain held toward most faculty at our institution from BoG members, including some we elected to the Board. Disparaging the faculty seems to pay here. We are the enemy.

This is not how a world-class university treats its faculty. Nor is it how a world-class faculty allows itself to be treated. A great university knows that its faculty is the university and its source of excellence, not a bothersome voice that needs to be shushed. Respect for faculty and their engagement in governance is in the best interests of UBC.

It is time for change. We can do better. I lack confidence in this BoG. I hope a vote of no confidence on the part of our faculty will catalyze the change required to improve the way this university is governed and that steps can be taken before a new president arrives. For a successful future, our university needs a president who can work productively with a faculty that has the respect of the BoG and the administration, something clearly lacking today.


*At the time of this writing (March 23, 2016) UBC was not listed as a member of the Association of Governing Boards. On April 4, 2016 the UBC Board of Governors’ Committee on Governance announced that UBC had joined the AGB, and UBC appeared on the AGB website as a member.

BoG No-Confidence Motion

BoG No-Confidence Motion

Yesterday there was a special meeting of the UBC faculty association, organized in response to this petition to the FA executive. The result of that meeting is that, beginning today, there will be an online vote on the following motion:

Be it resolved that the Faculty Association of the University of British Columbia has no confidence in the University of British Columbia Board of Governors.

The motion was presented by myself—Jonathan Ichikawa, Associate Professor, Philosophy—and seconded by Juliet O’Brien, 12-Month Lecturer, French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies.

Faculty members, watch your email for a message from the FA instructing you on how to vote.

Juliet and I each spoke for a few minutes in favour of the motion; our draft/notes materials follow. Continue reading “BoG No-Confidence Motion”

Faculty Awakening has already made a difference

Piece of Mind

PowerDo not despair, Carla. There is no reason to feel blue. You have not only awoken your faculty friends, you have reminded them that they are the university. You have empowered them again and they appreciate you for it. The “assholes” (as you so aptly call them) may not be listening, but the majority of your colleagues are. Rejoice, the Times They Are A-Changin’.

Only yesterday, the premier of our province announced upcoming legislation to require all BC universities to have sexual assault policies. This was not random. This did not happen after the 2013 pro-rape chants by some UBC Sauder Business School students. This is happening now because you and your colleagues chose to speak up and fight for the victims of sexual harassment and violence, and for adequate processes to protect them.

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The Lost Opportunity

The Lost Opportunity

By James Colliander, Founder/CEO of Crowdmark, Incoming Director of the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences, UBC Professor of Mathematics

I will vote no confidence in the UBC Board of Governors. My main reason is that this Board’s governance failure led to massive losses in opportunity. By forcing President Gupta to resign, John Montalbano, Lindsay Gordon and Greg Peet did great harm to UBC, the Province of British Columbia, Canada and our international partners. The consequences of their actions disqualify Mr. Gordon and Mr. Peet from playing any role in selecting the next President.

Hiring Gupta as President was no Fluke

Those who believe the whispers that Arvind Gupta lacked the “administrative experience” to be UBC President are invited to kiss the back side of a high velocity shovel. Mitacs Internships over TimeAfter achieving Full Professor with tenure at SFU, Dr. Gupta served as CEO and Scientific Director of Mitacs, a non-profit company that drives research-based innovation through partnerships intertwining government, industry and academia. Gupta led Mitacs on a tear:

  • Revenue grew at an average annual rate of 23% over 14 years.
  • More than $300 million of new money flowed into the Canadian higher education system.
  • Canada’s R&D ecosystem was enriched through 15,000 Mitacs academic-industrial internships.

Academic leaders noticed Gupta’s “Mitacs touch”: 60 (out of 95 nationwide) of Canada’s universities have become Mitacs partners. Government leaders noticed the Mitacs track record so Gupta was invited to serve on the Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC) and the Expert Panel that reviewed Federal support for R&D. The Expert Panel reviewed every program in Canada’s research and development ecosystem giving Gupta enormous insight. Industrial partners (like The Boeing Company) also noticed and partnered with Mitacs. The opportunities created by Gupta and his team were also noticed outside Canada: Brazil, France, India, Germany, Mexico, Tunisia, Turkey and Vietnam have all formed partnerships with Mitacs.

In Arvind Gupta, UBC had a leader who built partnerships with the Chrétien, Martin and Harper governments, with multiple governments in each of the provinces, with thousands of companies, and with many foreign countries. UBC’s appointment received national media attention. Gupta, in what appears to have been a first for a university president, was named on the Maclean’s Power List of top 50 most important people in Canada. Gupta was also invited, another first for a university president, to the federal finance minister’s policy retreat. He may have lacked the experience of being a Dean but Arvind Gupta’s vision, connections and accomplishments qualified him to serve as President of UBC.

Lost Serendipity: Federal Election

U15 with Prime Minister Trudeau

2015 was a year of magical opportunity for the higher education system. Canada’s top three universities had new leadership. Former President of NSERC, Dr. Suzanne Fortier was entering her second year as Principal of McGill. Dr. Meric Gertler was entering his second year as President of the University of Toronto. Working together in advance of the federal election, Fortier, Gertler and Gupta had the chance to transform the government’s role in higher education. With Fortier’s Tri-Council background, Gertler’s expertise on cities, and Gupta’s record with Mitacs, these three university leaders had a unique opportunity to advocate for specific investments from the new government.

The Trudeau Government will soon announce details for the 2016 budget. If they’d had the chance, could Fortier, Gertler and Gupta have enlarged the Tri-Council budget by an additional $3.5 billion? Could the anticipated infrastructure investments have been redirected to support the knowledge economy? With Gertler and Fortier adding support to the innovative arguments presented to the Vancouver Board of Trade, could President Gupta have secured billions in federal infrastructure investment for the Broadway transportation corridor? These serendipitous opportunities were lost when the UBC Board of Governors broke the synergy of this trio by forcing the resignation of President Gupta.

Lost Serindipity: Provincial Election

President Gupta and Premier Clark

Gupta’s vision for UBC, as outlined in the leaked document from January 30, 2015, included a province-wide strategy with an expanded role for UBC Okanagan and a renewed focus on research excellence. The document also revealed plans for sustainable need-based and merit-based bursaries to support students. These plans have emerged as the Centennial Scholars Program, a legacy milestone during Gupta’s abridged presidency. Equipped with mathematical models, government relations expertise, and new mechansims to fund students, Gupta was poised to transform the rigid 2% formula for funding higher education that has been in place since 2005. With Ontario’s recent move to make tuition free for thousands of students and the upcoming provincial election, UBC had a special opportunity to influence the platforms of the political parties. The election is scheduled for May 9, 2017 so the platform planning activities will be taking place this summer and fall. UBC lost its opportunity to have an established president in place, with a team and strategy ready to influence government during this period. The Board took actions that left UBC tactically disadvantaged to leverage the 41st General Election of British Columbia.

Lost Money, Lost Leadership, Lost Momentum

The presidential search, inaugurations, transition costs and legal fees will cost UBC millions of dollars. In the absence of a clear strategic vision, a mishmash of administrators from the Toope, Gupta and interim Piper presidencies direct their units as best they can. The next president will certainly make personnel changes which will incur costs. Thirty-nine days before President Gupta was forced to resign, UBC welcomed his administration’s new Vice President Finance Andrew Simpson. Mr. Simpson relocated to Vancouver from New Zealand. Actions by the current UBC Board created a situation in which Arvind Gupta continues to be paid presidential salary while UBC also pays the salary of Interim President Piper. Instead of investing in scholarships, research facilities, or faculty renewal, this Board wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a presidential transition. Their reasons for taking these actions remain unexplained.

No Confidence

Greg PeetGreg Peet

UBC lost a great opportunity in Arvind Gupta as president. Rather than a different president, what UBC needed was a successful presidency, which requires support of the Board of Governors. Actions by the Board have created initial conditions that make a successful presidency extremely unlikely. The leaked documents reveal that Chancellor Lindsay Gordon, Vice Chair Greg Peet and former Chair John Montalbano acted as a secret committee to force the resignation of President Gupta, without righful involvement of other governors, and without the formal performance review promised in his contract. The unexplained termination of the previous president caused a loss of momentum and reputational damage to an institution that will be dealing with a prolonged period of unstable, incoherent, and unfocused management. Mr. Gordon and Mr. Peet are leading the search for the next president. Why, and on what basis and authority, were these men allowed to abort a presidency? With no new governance review or new best practices in place, what will prevent the formation of a future secret committee to control, interfere with or terminate the next presidency? The circumstances are suspicious. Can some members of the Board, acting secretly, wield excessive coercion over the next UBC president? The actions of this Board of Governors have done great harm to UBC, to British Columbia and to Canada. I stand with hundreds of my faculty colleagues to publicly indicate No Confidence in the UBC Board of Governors.