How the BoG Might Regain Faculty Confidence

Here is some unsolicited advice for the UBC BoG on regaining faculty confidence.

  • Acknowledge that faculty and students are the core constituencies of the University.  We aren’t just the people whose excellence can be cited as a reason why the Presidential search is going to go so well.  Faculty have dedicated our careers (indeed, given our commitment to our intellectual concerns, our lives) to UBC.  Students have entrusted faculty with guiding their education and have voluntarily joined for a time our academic community.  Without this academic community, there is no UBC.  We are astonishingly dedicated to what we do, to doing it well, and to doing it here.
  • Stop thinking that fiduciary duties are both exclusively financial and exclusively external, pertaining only to donor returns on investment.  Fiduciary duties obtain whenever one party places its interests in trust with another.  The primary fiduciary duty of the faculty, therefore, is our duty to students; they have entrusted us with their education.  In matters educational, we act on our students’ behalf, not our own.  Moreover, the Board, by law, is entrusted by the residents of BC to act in the best interest of the University, which is mandated to teach and to do research.  The Board’s first fiduciary duty is, thus, to the people of BC and pertains to safeguarding and promoting the teaching and research missions of the University.
  • Acknowledge that the teaching and research mission of the University would be improved if sessional and 12-month lecturers had more financial and employment security.  Don’t forget that the research faculty, as things are currently arranged, depend on teaching faculty, including those in casual or dubiously continuing appointments; without them we wouldn’t have time to do our research.  The same is true of our reliance on teaching assistants.  Looking after these least advantaged members of the teaching contingent at UBC is also one of your fiduciary duties.
  • Start engaging seriously with the content of the criticisms leveled against you.
    1. For example, it is not true that concerned faculty really wish Arvind Gupta were made President again; the main questions re Gupta have always been: What does his resignation mean for the strategic vision he was in the process of laying out (UBC as top ten public university in the world)?  Are we giving that up?  If so, is that because it was too grand and unattainable, too small and unambitious, too expensive, not well-enough aligned to the BC government priorities, or what?  Given how quickly Gupta went from being the best person for the job as President to being considered by at least a portion of the BoG as unfit for the job, what needs to be changed about the search process or the working conditions of the President to avoid this sort of problem again?
    2. Similarly, I have not heard anyone say that there should never be confidential, in camera meetings of the BoG.  Confidential meetings are not the same as secret meetings—secret meetings are those that some BoG members feel they must publicly deny ever happened or perhaps don’t even know have happened.  No such meetings should ever happen. On the matter of confidential meetings, there should be a clear set of guidelines as to when a matter is confidential.  Every department at UBC has confidential meetings and clear guidelines about when a matter is confidential.  The guidelines for when a matter is confidential should be public.
    3. I know of no one who has said that business people should not be on the Board.  Some of us have said that it is a shame if all the appointed members of the Board are drawn from the business community.  This is not an anti-business stance; this is a stance that views the diversity of BC as deserving of some representation on the Board.
    4. All committees of the Board, including ad hoc committees, should be listed on the BoG website and have clear, public statements regarding their mandates.
  • Show an interest in the academic life of the campus.  Come visit our courses.  Come for colloquia and other talks.  Avoid as much as possible in BoG meetings saying things that indicate contempt for what we do.  It is not true, for example, that every course that is not a “flexible learning” course at UBC is a dreary lecture course featuring a “sage on the stage” droning on and on, interested only in cramming content into empty student heads.  I’ll be teaching in Arts One next year, I hereby invite all BoG members to come visit at least one of my seminars or tutorials.
  • Acknowledge and work with faculty on matters of genuine concern.  Every single faculty member at UBC knows that there is a real lack of decent office, laboratory, and classroom space on campus.  Yet it is never quite clear how the building done on campus (endlessly) addresses this problem.  Let’s sort out the building priorities and make sure that they pertain to the legally-mandated mission of the University.  Similarly, the sexual assault (and harassment) issues on campus are issues of the well-being of members of our academic community; they go to the very core of our legitimacy as a scholarly community in which every person has an opportunity to study without fear.  It would be enormously helpful if the BoG would acknowledge how central such matters are to the health of the whole academic community.
  • Listen to the arguments about why the Presidential search does not need to be finished in haste.  Here’s one brief argument: UBC just had a mysteriously failed Presidency.  Yet it has not changed it search procedures.  Nor has it committed to changing the conditions, especially her relations to the BoG, under which the President does her job.  Thus, there seems to be a structural problem (or problems) with the choice of or the employment conditions of the President that has not been dealt with.  Since the next President must succeed, it would be prudent to solve that problem (those problems) before our next President is appointed.  A response that says “we must move on” (which seems to be the going argument) entirely misses the import of my argument: we do have to move on, but not on to appointing a new President, but rather on to solving whatever the problem was with the appointment of our last President.  In the absence of fearlessly facing up to problems, we place our next President in clear and present danger of failing.
  • Remember that we have experts on campus about all sorts of matters related to the proper running of universities—every faculty member on campus has thought deeply about teaching, for example.  Help UBC actually be among the employers that values the expertise of its employees.