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.

Jonathan’s introduction:

The UBC Board of Governors is required by the BC University Act to act in the best interests of the university, but I, and many of my colleagues, see small grounds for confidence that it does so. The University of British Columbia is a diverse community of students, staff, administrators, and faculty. The recent history of the Board of Governors does not make it clear that it recognizes and understand the interests of the University, let alone promotes them. Nor has the Board been forthcoming in explaining its questionable actions, or answering our legitimate concerns.

Last month, four hundred fifty-seven Faculty Association members, as well as sixty-two distinguished Emeritus faculty, signed a resolution to the Faculty Association Executive, calling for a vote of no confidence in the Board of Governors. The response from the Executive is this meeting; I am here to present a formal motion for an expression of no confidence from the Faculty Association, to be voted on electronically by all of our colleagues.

There are many reasons many of us have no confidence in the Board of Governors. I’ll mention only three of them now.

First, there is a widespread perception that the Board of Governors is treating UBC like a corporation instead of a public institution dedicated to education and research; that it systematically ignores the interests of students and faculty in favour of narrowly defined financial interests. Perhaps relatedly, the governmentally-appointed majority of the Board comes almost exclusively from the financial and real estate world. The perception is that the board does not recognize or appreciate the University’s academic mission or social responsibilities.

Second, many of us are also concerned about a culture of fear at UBC, inconsistent with a robust commitment to academic freedom. There is a widespread perception that Board members will use their influence to stifle criticism and dissent. My experience talking to faculty members about this no-confidence vote confirms a serious threat to academic freedom—I have spoken to many colleagues who would only sign anonymously, or who supported the petition but were afraid to sign at all, for fear of professional retribution. UBC does not currently enjoy a strong culture of academic freedom; Board members’ actions in stifling dissent has been a major contributor to the problem.

Third, there is a widespread perception that the Board of Governors acts with undue secrecy—leaked documents show that there have been secret, undocumented meetings of the Board and of ad hoc Board committees, leaving behind no explanation or record of their momentous decisions. Secret meetings of unofficial committees of the Board of Governors should not dramatically influence the direction of the university. More generally, without an open and transparent governmental process, neither the UBC Faculty nor the public of British Columbia are able to know whether the Board is acting in the University’s interests. Indeed, many of us now have serious doubts about whether it is doing so.

Therefore, I move that the Faculty Association adopt this resolution:

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.

Juliet’s notes in seconding the motion, taken from her blog:

1.

I would have been neutral about the Board and confidence in them at this time last year.

I became increasingly concerned by events from August onwards. The January revelations were shocking: UBC documents were leaked to the media revealing the existence of secret undocumented meetings (to which others on the Board were not party), including meetings about the then President. Other meetings weren’t fully documented or minuted.

This present motion started with the UBClean rapid grassroots protest on 2 February calling for transparency and accountability.

Board members could be forgiven—perhaps misled, uninformed, misinformed, at any rate innocent—for what they did, didn’t do, said, and didn’t say up to that time. But after the January revelations, there could be no reason or excuse for continuing in this way. And no excuse for individual governors not to be at least asking questions. Yet we have no evidence for questions being asked. This I find surprising beyond reasonable comprehension. Dubious. I see no reason for a reasonable person to trust the Board. So I have no confidence in the board as a whole.

2.

The Board has, in their actions and inactions, damaged not only the reputation of UBC but destabilised the university itself. They have also acted contrary to their own obligations: to act with integrity, honestly, to the highest ethical and moral standards; to instil, enhance, and maintain public confidence in their actions and decisions. The fundamental relationship should be one of trust; essential to trust is a commitment to honesty and integrity.

The onus, the obligation to work towards creating trust, is on the side of the Board.

3.

Our Board’s damage to the University is serious but salvageable: by rebuilding trust. The Board are, I assume, intelligent reasonable caring human beings, capable of learning and growth. Here are some sustainable stability suggestions:

  • An independent external review of the Board of Governors, their recent history, and their practices
  • The removal from the Board of those Governors who were involved in recent malpractices
  • Joining the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges or at the very least, as a compromise, adopting their Statement on Board Accountability
  • Fully open documentation of all activities (with confidential ones under seal)
  • Working, thinking, talking about what an interim caretaker Board of Governors should look like
  • Forming a new, clean, fresh Board who are properly educated in governance

We have experts right here: faculty in all the relevant areas: history and histories local, national, international; political history and theory; international relations; anthropology; educational policy; government and leadership. Faculty in the arts, humanities, and social sciences can help. All faculty can help. Anyone who is an intelligent adult citizen with experience of living in the world can help. That includes our students, alumni, and staff: we can rebuilt trust together, stabilise and rebuild UBC in this its centenial year, and make UBC a radical new kind of institution, lighting the way for others in the next hundred years.

4.

This is a positive and constructive moment today. UBC strategic plan slogans about “vision and values” and so on have an opportunity, right here and now, to translate into actual principles and practices, in a community of compassion and care. Many of us are here precisely because we care: about individuals, whether we know them or not; and about our university.

But that has to start here, now, with proper adult open discussion of governance. Starting with a lack of confidence in the Board of Governors, public acknowledgement of wrong, of harm done, and of a will to change. Rehabilitation, resurrection, and renewal have to start with that, and the hard work of building true trust and real relationship.

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