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.