Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

We now (3:30 pm, 24 April) have 110 signatories to this letter.  This is the version of the letter I have submitted to the committee.  You can still indicate support for the letter in the comments section but it is more crucial now to direct remarks to the committee. See the link below.—AR

Open Letter to the UBC Chancellor Reappointment Committee

“There is no investment that is more critical to the university than our investment in the faculty. Our standing as a research university and our attractiveness as a destination for the best and brightest students all rest with the quality of our faculty.” – President Santa J. Ono

Dear Committee:

Thank you for your service to UBC.  While it is true that the reappointment of a one-term Chancellor is consistent with the BC University Act, it is disheartening that Lindsay Gordon is being considered for reappointment.  Gordon was deeply immersed in all the activities that led the UBC faculty to vote overwhelmingly that they had no confidence in the Board of Governors.  The faculty also voted overwhelmingly that the Presidential search should be suspended and that Gordon himself should resign from the committee.  (These votes all had unprecedentedly high turnout; these issues galvanized the faculty.) The Chancellor and the Board ignored these messages.  President Ono has said, and it is true, that the faculty and the students are what make UBC a great university.  It is time the Board and the Chancellor attended to faculty opinion.  It is time for a new Chancellor.

Chancellor Gordon was one of the “gang” (current Board chair Stuart Belkin’s term) that held secret meetings that led to President Gupta’s resignation.  When the Faculty Association sought via a FIPPA request to see the Chancellor’s email, they were told there were no emails—only to discover that the Chancellor had been part of various email chains leading to Gupta’s resignation.  Gordon is also mentioned explicitly as one of the people who mishandled the Berdahl case, leading to the institutional failure to protect her academic freedom.  As Justice Smith points out in her Report on this case, then Board Chair Montalbano, Chancellor Gordon, and unnamed staff, without bringing in central academic administrators, tried to manage the response to Gupta’s resignation and failed miserably in the attempt.  In themselves, these actions should have led to the Chancellor’s resignation. Instead, the Chancellor has stayed on but has offered no account to the faculty regarding his actions.

We remind the Committee that UBC faculty are members of Convocation and that the Chancellor is the chair of Convocation.  The chief business of Convocation is the conferring of UBC degrees.  UBC faculty do the instruction and assessment relevant to the conferring of such degrees. Alumni UBC, acting on behalf of Convocation in the matter of choosing a Chancellor, should not ignore the faculty’s warranted distrust of Lindsay Gordon. In the interests of turning the page and moving to an era of more open governance, we urge you not to reappoint Lindsay Gordon as Chancellor.

Sincerely,

Alan Richardson (Philosophy)
Doris J. Doudet (Medicine/Neurology)
Peter Wylie (Economics, Philosophy, Political Science, UBCO)
James Colliander (Mathematics)
Alan Mackworth (Computer Science)
[Name Redacted for Internet Version] (Computer Science)
Judy Segal (English)
Stephen Guy-Bray (English)
Anthony Paré (Language and Literacy Education)
Nassif Ghoussoub (Mathematics)
Adam Frank (English)
Carrie Jenkins (Philosophy)
Scott MacKenzie (English)
Carla Nappi (History)
Mark Vessey (English/Green College)
Michael Zeitlin (English)
Tom Kemple (Sociology)
Juliet Ó Brien (FHIS)
Katja Thieme (English/ASRW/Vantage)
Barbara Dancygier (English)
Miguel Mota (English)
Jonathan Ichikawa (Philosophy)
Moberley Luger (English/CAP)
Jennifer Berdahl (Sauder)
Jessica Wang (History)
Stephen Petrina (Curriculum and Pedagogy)
Andrew Rechnitzer (Mathematics)
Young-Heon Kim (Mathematics)
Martin Barlow (Mathematics)
Michael Ward (Mathematics)
Edwin Perkins (Mathematics)
Brian McElroy (Theatre and Film)
David Poole (Computer Science)
Omer Angel (Mathematics)
Steph van Willigenburg (Mathematics)
Patricia Badir (English)
Bruce Rusk (Asian Studies)
David Kirkpatrick (Computer Science)
Stefan Dollinger (English)
Eric Cyrtrynbaum (Mathematics)
Vin Nardizzi (English)
Mercedes Fernandez-Duran (Critical Studies, UBCO)
Liz Hodgson (English)
Cristina Conati (Computer Science)
Christoph Hauert (Mathematics)
Greg Martin (Mathematics)
Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (CENES)
Ian Hill (English)
Amy Metcalfe (Educational Studies)
Mary Ann S. Saunders (English/ASRW)
Gordon Semenoff (Physics and Astronomy)
Rabab Ward (Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Deanna Kreisel (English)
Sam Rocha (Educational Studies)
Coll Thrush (History)
Gordon Slade (Mathematics)
E. Wayne Ross (Curriculum and Pedagogy)
William Unruh (Physics and Astronomy)
Sandra Mathison (Education/ECPS)
Carl Leggo (Language and Literacy Education)
Tai-Peng Tsai (Mathematics)
Matias Salibian-Barrera (Statistics)
Felix J. Herrmann (EOAS)
Dianne Newell (History)
Joy Butler (Curriculum & Pedagogy)
Siân Echard (English)
Richard Froese (Mathematics)
Harry Joe (Statistics)
Dong Li (Mathematics)
Janis McKenna (Physics and Astronomy)
Leah Keshet (Mathematics)
Sujatha Ramdorai (Mathematics)
Liisa Galea (Psychology)
Tina Loo (History)
Vinayak Vatsal (Mathematics)
Jon Beasley-Murray (FHIS)
Christopher Stephens (Philosophy)
Steven Taubeneck (CENES/Philosophy)
Sylvia Berryman (Philosophy)
Shaylih Muehlmann (Anthropology)
Sue Rowley (Anthropology/MOA)
Laurie McNeill (English/CAP)
Margot Young (Law)
Priscilla Greenwood (Mathematics)
Ruben Zamar (Statistics)
Joanna Karczmarek (Physics and Astronomy)
Holger H. Hoos (Computer Science)
Susanna Braund (CNERS)
Jingyi Chen (Mathematics)
Michael MacEntee (Dentistry)
Kai Behrend (Mathematics)
Juncheng Wei (Mathematics)
Michael Doebeli (Zoology)
Jozsef Solymosi (Mathematics)
Ozgur Yilmaz (Mathematics)
Wayne Nagata (Mathematics)
Jehannine Austin (Medical Genetics)
Albert Chau (Mathematics)
Martin Schulz (Sauder)
R.G. Matson (Anthropology)
Gunnar Ólafur Hansson (Linguistics)
Kalle Karu (Mathematics)
Christopher Rea (Asian Studies)
William Welch (Statistics)
Stephen Gustafson (Mathematics)
Anthony Peirce (Mathematics)
Bonny Norton (Language and Literacy Education)
Richard Anstee (Mathematics)
Jennifer Gustar (Critical Studies, UBCO)
Dan Coombs (Mathematics)

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The Latest Attack on Academic Freedom in Canada: McGill Turns Away from Controversy and Provocation

 

“While the Institute itself is non-partisan, MISC is no stranger to debate and controversy.”—https://mcgill.ca/misc/about

“It is not a role to provoke, but to promote good discussion.”—McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier as quoted in The Globe and Mail

 

McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier has spoken out in defense of her actions in accepting the resignation of Andrew Potter from his post as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). She emphasizes on the responsibility of the leaders of academic units to represent those units. In particular, she maintains that the Institute must be non-partisan. However, she finds that in writing the Maclean’s article as director of the Institute Potter violated non-partisanship and, thus, poorly represented the Institute. His op-ed was, she claims, provocative and would lead political leaders not to wish to come to Institute events. She also claims that the scholarship was shoddy and as Institute Director Potter had to avoid such shoddy work.

 

Here are some facts upon which we can agree. Potter wrote the Maclean’s essay while the Director of MISC.  He is also identified as the Director of MISC on the webpage of the article.  Let us suppose that this means he wrote is as the Director of the Institute.[1] Let’s also agree that the essay was shoddy—he had already apologized for it and retracted a portion of it before he resigned.[2]

 

Here is another fact: Potter wrote several other pieces for the popular press in which he criticized some political points of view and was identified as the Director of the Institute.[3] For example, in an essay he wrote in January in the Ottawa Citizen he  says things about Trump and Stephen Harper[4] that Harper’s supporters would surely find misleading (if unsurprising). He also likens the entire American political scene to “two troops of apes shrieking at one another across a great partisan divide.” Before Potter gets to American politics, he says something absurd about humanities disciplines and truth.[5]  The piece is a shoddy op-ed by any reasonable standard. There were no calls for Potter to resign after having written that essay, and he did not.

 

So, it took more than writing an op-ed exhibiting poor scholarship and taking a partisan stand for Potter to resign.  It took an essay with poor scholarship that took a partisan stand and that offended the powers that be in Quebec. Only after the appearance of such an op-ed did Fortier decide that Potter had misbehaved in office.

 

Here’s the problem: in so defending “non-partisanship” in light of the actual record of Potter’s popular writings as Director, Fortier is committed to this: the Institute Director may criticize some political viewpoints (for example, Harper and the whole of American politics) in op-eds while he may not so criticize other viewpoints. That is, in an effort to defend non-partisanship, Fortier has made the Institute partisan.  The whole point of academic freedom is to defend academics’ rights to criticize any and every point of view.  Only by insisting that all views may be criticized can the Institute make a credible case that it is non-partisan and has academic integrity.

 

Fortier has made an enormous misstep. The Institute now occupies a position in the political order and can no longer criticize positions in that order from anything other than a recognizably partisan point of view. The academic integrity of the Institute has been undermined.[6] There simply is no academic integrity available for any academic researcher (particularly those of us who wish to speak publicly about any aspect of the social or political order) unless we are granted unfettered academic freedom to criticize any position.

 

It is unclear that Fortier wants the Institute to have academic integrity. She seems to think it should be a place where the great and the good of Quebec  and Canada gather for a comfortable chat. This might well keep the funding gates open at McGill but at the cost of removing McGill from the critical role of a university in society.

 

[1] I don’t think that is an obvious conclusion, actually. I have been identified in various ways in essays I have written; not all of those ways specify the social role I was occupying in writing the essay.  But this is not my concern today.

[2] Just what the scholarly standards are for an op-ed in a popular newspaper are, even when those op-eds are written by academics is, of course, unclear.

[3] Several of these are linked to the MISC website.

[4] “Scientists have developed an annoying habit of pointing out the connection between the activities of a modern economy and the heating up of the planet, while social planners like to make use of stuff such as demographic data to suggest social policy. That’s why Donald Trump, like Stephen Harper before him, is muzzling the scientists and statisticians.”

[5] “For the better part of the past 30 years, the received view in most humanities departments has been that truth is at best the handmaiden of capitalism, at worst the whore of patriarchy. Either way, all a commitment to truth ever gave us was inequality, environmental destruction and the atomic bomb. To argue otherwise is to reveal yourself as a fascist or – perhaps worse – a liberal.”

[6] Moreover, as a matter of public discourse and as a practical matter at McGill, the directorship question is a red herring. This can be seen by the fact that Potter did not merely resign the directorship; he resigned from the Institute entirely.  The Institute has been insulated from his criticisms of Quebec society.

 

 

 


Demanding Due Process at UBC: Beyond Social Media Wars in the Galloway Case

As an outsider, I find it depressing to see the Canadian Literature community tear itself apart over the open letter on the Galloway case rather than using the letter to come together over their evident common desire. (The letter is here; a response letter by Lawrence Hill is here; there are many other responses.)  I understand that the original open letter could be much better.  It is possible to read it as suggesting that the evidence of lack of due process comes from the result or that justice is due only to Galloway.  It is regrettable that the letter has caused additional pain for people in the UBC Creative Writing Department and strife for that Department. 

For all its faults, the letter does call for due process.  Everyone in the CanLit community and everyone at UBC has an interest in knowing that due process was in fact followed in this—as in any—case involving allegations of misconduct and the eventual firing of personnel.  In this case, many people, whether they speak on behalf of the complainants or on behalf of Galloway, have suggested due process was not followed.

Now we are seeing a social media war within the CanLit community.  Meanwhile, UBC itself sits on the sidelines and watches that community inflict damage upon itself.  Marsha Lederman’s reporting has quoted from a four-paragraph statement from VP External Affairs Philip Steenkamp on UBC’s handling of the case.  I have seen that statement only as screen shot attached to a tweet from a local reporter; as far as I can tell, it has not been sent to any faculty or students at UBC.  Why is UBC again talking to the press but not to its own academic community?

The issues here, as has become depressingly common at UBC, are these:  We don’t know what level or nature of allegations trigger an investigation at UBC; we don’t know how processes of evidence gathering are set up in those investigations; we don’t know what standards of evidence are followed.  In the case of Galloway, we don’t know what the original allegations brought to UBC’s attention were or what the findings of the investigation were; thus, we don’t know what findings triggered the decision to fire Galloway; we don’t know why those findings warranted firing for “breach of trust.”  That’s a partial list of the known unknowns.

UBC claims not to be able to provide any of this information due to “confidentiality” concerns.  It is not at all clear that the reasons for firing of an individual for “breach of trust” at a public institution are not in the public interest to know.  (Steenkamp’s statement seems to admit that it is in the public interest.) Thus, it is not at all clear that, under the BC Privacy Act, confidentiality pertains in this case at all.  In any case, “confidentiality” seems at UBC a euphemism for “secrecy.”  If UBC doesn’t figure out a much more robust and compelling internal as well as external communications strategy, it is going to leave more and more communities—at UBC and beyond its walls—in tatters.

Meanwhile, CanLit community, can you do everyone at UBC a favour?  Can you have a ceasefire in your social media war for long enough to agree that the reason you are fighting is that no one knows why UBC took the actions it did and in the absence of such knowledge no one has any reason to trust the process that led to those actions? Reports from witnesses and complainants give us more reason not to trust that process—which itself seems to have caused additional harm.

I’d like to do more than believe survivors.  I’d like to help survivors and to help prevent actions that would lead to more people becoming survivors.  As a faculty member at UBC, I have no take-home lessons I can use in the Galloway case.  I have no idea what actions UBC finds to be a breach of trust; I have no idea what UBC even thinks happened.  I cannot do my job better because of UBC’s handling of this case.  I can, however, do my job worse: I can (from fear of processes I don’t understand and due to concerns about ripping apart my own community of scholars) withdraw into my office, look the other way, shrug my shoulders, try to stay out of harm’s way.  Keeping my head down easy for me—another one of those privileged middle-aged white men with tenure—and much, much harder for those who really do need institutional protection and justice.

Dispersing the Cloud at UBC: Thoughts on UBC’s Sexual Assault Policy

UBC’s consultation period on the draft sexual assault policy concludes in a few days.  The results of that consultation will be important inputs into fulfilling the BC government’s mandate that all universities and colleges in BC have such a policy.  The end of the consultation period comes, as it happens, at a depressing time.  Nearly every revelation or innuendo in the current US Presidential election for the past month has reminded us of how sexually predatory powerful men can be.  Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Anthony Weiner form a cornucopia of sexual horridness.  More locally, UBC’s handling of the Steven Galloway case has been extensively reported upon in this weekend’s Globe and Mail; in the absence of the facts of the case, members of the UBC community can’t know how to read the allegations or the actions taken against him.

I am, of course, almost entirely ignorant of the facts in the Galloway case—how could I not be, when maintaining the community in a state of ignorance seems to be among the University’s goals?  Allegations made about the conduct of the investigation in the Globe and Mail article are, however, deeply troubling.  In the absence of a more official account, including the Boyd Report itself, the Globe article will be the circulating story.  I am myself particularly troubled by the allegation that some who understood themselves to have been called as witnesses in the investigation were then construed as complainants.  Everyone who speaks at an investigation needs to have a clear, consistent, and agreed-upon role.  (I am sad to say that I find this allegation plausible, given my experience in other types of investigations at UBC.  Many years ago, I was called as a witness at one such UBC investigation and when I arrived I was, in essence, told that I was to be presenting the case for the defense.  I declined.)

The expert panel on sexual assault, whose report was finally made public recently, has asked the sexual assault policy be placed in a larger context.  What follows are four recommendations regarding that larger context:

  1. Rather than a narrow sexual-assault policy, UBC should have a consensual or non-coercive sexual behaviour policy. This would solve two problems.  First, there are lingering concerns that, since sexual assault is a criminal matter, universities should not use administrative justice to make determinations about it.  Universities are not in fact doing that, but use of a different term can allay such concerns.  Second, sexual assault is at the extreme end of a variety of behaviours that UBC should find troubling.  We have every right to expect better behaviour than simple refraining from assaulting others.  The University of Ottawa pub crawl might not have involved assault (I don’t know) but it surely involved peer coercion and misogyny (as has the social media response).
  2. Policies and procedures must always align with core academic values. Among the most troubling aspects of drawing the curtain of confidentiality so tightly around so many recent cases at UBC is that it leaves the UBC academic community without any idea what the truth is.  This is troubling in the specific cases; for example, if we have no idea how Galloway “breach[ed] trust,” then how can we as professors and students know whether our behaviour is putting ourselves or others at risk?  But it is also troubling in general—because our community is organized around creating, communicating, and preserving knowledge.  To be told routinely by our administration that there are crucial things we are not allowed to know conflicts with our fundamental commitment to knowledge.  No one wishes to air dirty laundry, but if there is no way to discuss without embarrassment or liability why a President resigned or a professor was fired, something is terribly wrong.  We are practiced and, indeed, subtle in our handling of the truth.  Trust us.
  3. UBC must stand against nonconsensual sexual behaviour as a matter of the mutual respect we need to have for one another in order to be a community dedicated to knowledge production, communication, and preservation. Nonconsensual sexual behaviour expresses lack of respect for the humanity of another and it instills fear (dread, loathing, humiliation, etc.) in that other person.  These are not proper social conditions in which the academic community can fulfil its function. Of course, all communities should foster respect of all for all; my point is that our academic mission and values give us an additional reason to demand such respect.  No person who lives in fear or pain can function to the best of their ability in an academic community; no person who disrespects the autonomy of others is discharging their intellectual responsibilities to our community.
  4. We must have a firm empirical grip on our community and its history and design our policies and procedures in the light of such knowledge. North American universities have poor records of fostering respect for women or for members of sexual- or gender-identity minorities (among other groups).  Moreover, most of our students are young adults who are often experimenting sexually (and in other ways); such experimentation is not something we should try to discourage but something they need to understand requires consent and mutual respect.  Also, sexual assault policies should not ignore those aspects of campus culture such as party culture and sports culture that—not necessarily but all too often—work against mutual respect.  In other words, what UBC needs, while it formulates its policies and procedures, is an open and informed discussion that begins from and respects the knowledge we have about the interconnection of problems of sexual behaviour with other aspects of campus life and the history of universities, including our own.  Languishing UBC documents (such as this one regarding rape culture and colonialism and the University’s response) that bear the fruits of intersectional research should be prominent in these discussions.

A university goes from excellence to eminence by solving its problems in an exemplary way, offering a model that other universities will emulate.  Until UBC learns both to care for and rely on the intelligence and good will of its academic community, this goal will remain elusive.

 

 

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.

Open Letter to the Elected Members of the UBC Board of Governors

“The Board of Governors shall promote a culture of integrity at the University through its own actions, its interaction with senior executives and external parties, and through selection and review of the President.”—UBC Board of Governors Code of Conduct and Ethics

Dear Elected Board Members:

Thank you for taking the time to speak to the UBC community about your votes in favour of accepting the resignation of President Arvind Gupta and your continuing belief, despite subsequent turmoil, that these votes served the best interests of UBC.  I have a few further questions:

In light of the fact that there were some meetings of an unspecified committee of BoG members in the process leading to Gupta’s resignation and that at least some of you were either not aware of these meetings or have now a sense of their impropriety, do you now believe that your judgment as to what was in UBC’s best interests at the time was unreliable, due to your failure to understand or to participate fully in the process that led to that resignation?

In light of the fact that Gupta was prevented by the then Chair from speaking to the BoG, do you now believe that the information you had upon which to base your judgment was biased, fragmentary, and unreliable?

Did you know that Gupta did not have his contractually-required annual performance review?  If you believed he did have that review, did you ask to see the report?  In your view at the time or now, was this violation of the President’s contract in the best interests of the University?

Much has been made of the fact that some details of the resignation fall under the BC Privacy Act.  All actions of the UBC BoG, however, fall under the BC University Act.  This Act enjoins each of you to act in the best interests of the University.  Is it impossible to explain without violating confidentiality the general reasons why the BoG accepted Gupta’s resignation?  If faculty and students do not know the reasons why you accepted the resignation and if we do not know why new information about the processes that led to it fails to alter your judgment regarding that resignation, how can we know if you were acting then or are now acting in accordance with the law? 

Similarly, all BoG activities are guided by the UBC Board of Governors Conduct of Conduct and Ethics.  This Code enjoins you to be a “guardian of the University’s values” and “to direct the Administration to ensure that the University operates at all times … to the highest ethical and moral standards.”  In your opinion, did you yourselves or the BoG as a whole act in the matter of Gupta’s Presidency and resignation as a guardian of the University’s values or to the highest moral and ethical standards?  Did you, as you are further enjoined to do, “promote a culture of integrity” in your actions in this matter?  Have your actions subsequent to the resignation—your support of Montalbano while he was being investigated for alleged violations of academic freedom, your failure publicly to call for more transparency in governance in the wake of highly visible faculty and student protest and action—promoted a culture of integrity or exhibited the highest moral standards?

If UBC faculty and students (or the residents of BC) cannot know if you have acted and are acting in good faith in accordance with the law and with the BoG’s Code of Conduct and Ethics, why do you expect us now to have confidence in your judgment or in the judgment of the BoG as a whole?  How can we support your choice of the next President of UBC?

In the absence of answers to questions like these I, as a member of the UBC academic community and as a resident of BC, cannot support the continuation of the current Presidential search.

Sincerely,

Alan Richardson

Professor, Department of Philosophy, UBC

 

On Taking UBC’s Governance Crisis Seriously

The fate of UBC as a leading Canadian university is now at stake.  Many both within and outside the University have looked upon recent events at UBC with despair—an unexplained resignation of a President, the resignation of a Board Chair after a finding that UBC failed to uphold a faculty member’s academic freedom, an embarrassing and damaging document leak.  The wheels seem to be coming off.

The past few days have brought assurances from UBC leadership that, appearances notwithstanding, all is well.  Martha Piper, UBC’s interim President, and Stuart Belkin, its new Board Chair, issued a public statement; this has been followed by a public letter from the Deans.  Unfortunately, both missives failed to acknowledge that there is a governance crisis at UBC and failed to outline positive steps toward resolving that crisis.

There is a governance crisis at UBC.  It has been several months since the executive of the Faculty Association declared a loss of confidence in the leadership of the Board.  More than 450 faculty members signed a petition asking for a motion of no confidence.  As an institution devoted to teaching and research, UBC is primarily its faculty and students.  If the faculty lack confidence in the Board, UBC cannot function coherently and the faculty cannot endorse the Board’s choice of our next President.

In their statement, Piper and Belkin offer three points.  First, there have been changes to the Board.  Second, the Board is open to a conversation about governance and this discussion will begin in April.  Third, an external legal opinion assures them that the Board did not act illegally before or after the resignation of President Gupta.  These points do not address any of the main concerns of the faculty.  Given that we do not know how the Board governs, we cannot know if the changes in the Board address governance issues that have contributed to recent events.  Acting within the law is a minimal standard of governance and is clearly an insufficient standard of excellence for a leading university.  As for conversation, faculty have been calling for that since August 2015; there is no need to wait for April.

In their letter, the Deans offer three points also.  First, despite rumours to the contrary, they are supporters of Gupta’s vision to place UBC among the pre-eminent public universities in the world.  Second, President Piper and Chancellor Gordon are good, competent, and committed people. Third, we need to get on with our Presidential search and come together.  Again, no substantive issues are addressed.  The only reason why damaging rumours are circulating is that the Board has refused to explain why Gupta resigned. Second, faculty concerns are about governance structures and procedures, not about the individual virtue of those in leadership positions.  Third, in the absence of substantive changes in governance structures, the faculty’s lack of confidence in the Board simply entails that the current Presidential search lacks legitimacy; we cannot endorse the choice by this Board of the academic leader of UBC. (Gary Mason’s recent column on UBC explains the current governing crisis and why the Presidential search cannot continue on its current schedule.) 

UBC, due to the quality of its faculty and students, is the finest university in western Canada.  It aims to be among the finest public universities in the world.  When its governance structures are opaque and when puzzling Board actions and decisions are not explained, UBC cannot fulfil its ambitions and is, indeed, in danger of losing its current status.  Therefore, the faculty demand genuine and substantial reform in UBC’s governance structures. Together with a group of like-minded colleagues, I call for specific actions: suspending the Presidential search pending an external review of Board procedures and structures; suspending Board members engaged in meetings that were kept secret from the full Board and that led to Gupta’s resignation and the deepening governance crisis; putting in place policies that make the Board more representative of the range of constituencies in the province. 

Academic excellence demands a culture of open discussion, genuine listening to and engaging with other points of view, and deep, sometimes difficult, problem-solving.  A university governance culture that does not exhibit these characteristics is inconsistent with academic excellence and damages UBC’s academic standing and mission. Concerned faculty numbering in the hundreds refuse to let that happen.