The Fall of the Faculty: A Case Study of University Governance at UBC

Piece of Mind

This post expands on a talk I gave at a Conference on University Governance in the 21st century, which was held in Vancouver on March 3-4. My session was concerned with: Duty to Whom? Institutional Loyalty and Collegial Governance, which will be the subject of my next post. In this first part, I show how university governance as practiced at UBC is used to marginalize the faculty. Almost a year has passed since 800 faculty members at UBC voted non-confidence in the actions of the Board of Governors. Reforms, promised then by the Chair of the Board, Stuart Belkin, are yet to be announced, let alone implemented. The Board secretariat remains unchanged, its controversial shadowy ways intact, resisting and stalling FOI requests by the Faculty Association and others. The Chancellor is still in place, unmoved by a humiliating vote of non-confidence in his chairing of the presidential search committee…

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Salient points of Daniel Heath Justice’s letter of resignation from the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee in response to Furlong’s reinstatement

Dear Professor Ono,

I read with dismay the announcement yesterday that John Furlong has been reinstated as a UBC fundraising speaker. … There were many responsible and compassionate ways this matter might have been handled that would not have once again silenced or erased the abuse allegations of dozens of people from the Lake Babine First Nation — some of whom I understand have contacted your office and have received no response — but the result of UBC’s press releases has been to do precisely that, and to once again undermine the hard work that so many of us have undertaken at this university to do ethical, accountable work in relationship with Indigenous communities.

Given these events, I am sad to say that I cannot continue to serve with integrity on the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee. It is impossible to do so given that the Committee’s good work has been so deliberately and significantly survivor-centred; this reversal undermines the credibility of that process and further alienates a broader community that is already deeply concerned with the University’s handling of these matters. This saddens me for two reasons: first, it means that no one on any of the sexual assault policy work is Indigenous, which is a significant gap considering that our community is statistically far more likely to experience sexual, gender-based, and racialized violence than any others in Canada, and second, it means stepping away from a group whose members have demonstrated incredible commitment over the last year and who, I believe, have undertaken deeply meaningful labour in the face of growing and demoralizing skepticism within and beyond the institution. I regret that my departure may create difficulties for them and their efforts, but after consultation with members of my community and significant reflection, my priority must be to support under-represented Indigenous voices on these matters, and I believe that a viable and legitimate survivor-centred approach to sexual assault cannot stand with integrity alongside this deeply troubling decision. At least not for me.

… I hope you will give the remaining Committee members every possible level of support to make the meaningful change that we so desperately require at UBC on issues around sexual, gender-based, and racialized violence — especially for Indigenous peoples on our campus…and in our province. It will take a great deal of effort to undo the damage of this decision.


Daniel Heath Justice

Daniel Heath Justice is Chair, First Nations and Indigenous Studies (FNIS) at UBC, Professor, FNIS and English, and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture

Shaking up the UBC Board of Governors

Piece of Mind

Month after month of bad press in local and national media outlets didn’t do it. Petition after petition asking for transparency and accountability from the governors and the managerial class didn’t do it. Eight hundred faculty members voting non-confidence in the Board of Governors didn’t do it. And the jury is still out on whether even a new president with a reportedly rock star status and a de-facto strengthened mandate can do it. But we still see one glitter of hope for our university.

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UBC’s new president is not a mathematician, but …

Piece of Mind

The last time I saw the fabulous Frances Bula, she said that she liked my tweets whenever I commented on mathematics and mathematicians. I think she really meant for me to leave the rest of the news and analysis to her and the pros. However, thanks to Stuart Belkin, I now have a chance to do both. I mention the Chair of the UBC Board because I hear that –fortunately I must say– he is the one in charge these days, including of the presidential search.  The remarkable choice of Santa Ono (yes Santa!) as UBC’s 15th president is nothing but a victory to those among us calling for a renewed spirit of research excellence, academic freedom, diversity, decency, humanity and fair-play among the UBC leadership, be it mid-level and up.

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An open letter to Faye Wightman, Chair of the UBC Alumni Board of Directors

An open letter to Faye Wightman, Chair of the UBC Alumni Board of Directors

From Roger Francois, Professor, Canadian Research Chair, FRSC, UBC Alumni ’87 (PhD)

Dear Ms. Wightman,

I could not attend the meeting of the Board of Governors on April 14th because of a scheduling conflict but owing to the new openness of the board under the leadership of Mr. Belkin, I was able to view the proceedings later that evening. What I saw and heard encouraged me to believe that I was witnessing a new era of earnest dialogue between the various stakeholders of the university. The representatives for UBC students, faculty, and staff raised their cases frankly but respectfully, and the response from the board members conveyed the desire to build bridges and work towards addressing the concerns of the different constituencies of UBC.

It was therefore very unfortunate that this atmosphere of goodwill was partly clouded when you took the stage, although the silence that followed your rather condescending and acrimonious presentation tells me that it will be quickly forgotten. Nonetheless, as a UBC Alumnus, I feel compelled to voice my concern regarding your assertion that you were speaking in the name of 300,000 of us. You may have consulted with the twelve members of the Alumni Board of Directors but 12 out of 300,000 do not provide a quorum. As you aptly indicated in your speech, it is important to “report on the numbers in an accurate and correct fashion.” As a person who speaks her mind, I trust that you will appreciate that I do the same.

Yours truly,

Roger Francois

An open letter to Stuart Belkin, Chair, UBC Board of Governors

An open letter to Stuart Belkin, Chair, UBC Board of Governors

Re: Ms. Wightman’s presentation at the April 14th meeting of the Board of Governors

From: Prof. Kalina Christoff, Department of Psychology

Dear Mr. Belkin,

As a faculty member at UBC, I was delighted to hear today’s discussions between the Board of Governors and various UBC representatives. It was encouraging to hear your thoughtful responses to each presenter and the engaged questions that a number of Board members asked. I was just starting to feel a pleasant sense of hopefulness and, dare I say, a glimmer of trust in the Board of Governors — when suddenly, a cold bucket of water was poured over my head in the form of Faye Wightman’s presentation.

Ms. Wightman’s tone all but destroyed the atmosphere of respect that was created throughout the preceding 1.5 hours. In the space of 10 short minutes, she managed to gravely insult, disrespect and belittle faculty members and others who have been working to improve governance practices at UBC. Rebuilding trust is a delicate exercise and scheduling such an insulting and outright offensive presentation for the end of today’s discussion can only mean that whoever was doing the scheduling did not want us to leave feeling a sense of hope. Whoever did today’s scheduling wanted faculty members to leave the meeting feeling “put in their places,” feeling like the little kids in the playground that Ms. Wightman compared us to.

Furthermore, I would like to question the decision to have Ms. Wightman represent alumni today in front of the Board. It was my understanding that the Board wanted to hear feedback and suggestions on how to improve its transparency and operations. Whoever chose Ms. Wightman to speak on behalf of alumni today clearly did not want the Board to hear any critical feedback from alumni.

All in all, I would like to congratulate you on everything you and your Board members did today, and to convey my regret that your hard labours were, in my opinion, almost completely undone by the decision to chose Ms. Wightman among the presenters and to schedule her presentation last.


Kalina Christoff, Ph.D.

Recommendations for Moving Forward and Improving Governance at UBC

Recommendations for Moving Forward and Improving Governance at UBC

The majority of faculty at UBC lack confidence in the current Presidential Search Committee (72%) and the Board of Governors (62%). This confidence needs to be restored before selecting and appointing a new president. No matter how wonderful a candidate the current PSC may find, this person will arrive at UBC under a cloud of suspicion and an indebtedness to those currently not trusted by most of the faculty. This, in turn, will undermine the president’s ability to be trusted, supported, and effective at UBC.

There will be enormous pressure to have the next president serve a full term, no matter his or her effectiveness or level of support from the university. It is therefore crucial that the next president walks into a situation in which governance problems, and the rift between faculty, administration, and the BoG, have been adequately addressed and healed. This will ensure that proper institutional support is in place, along with effective mechanisms for performance review and accountability.

Below are suggestions for moving UBC forward and taking advantage of this moment of unprecedented faculty engagement in issues of governance. By refocusing UBC on its academic mission and enlisting faculty more deeply in governance, UBC can grow stronger, and around its longest serving members: the faculty who define the university’s reputation for research and teaching. Rather than a threat to its reputation, our strong and vocal faculty are a sign of excellence and opportunity. Positive reforms and strengthening faculty governance can launch UBC to a new level of greatness.

Immediate Steps

1. Suspend the current presidential search and appoint an interim president until the items below can be accomplished, probably through June 2018.

The Coming Year (2016-17)

2. Conduct an independent investigation into the failure of the last presidency and the (mis)management of the announcement, external relations, and internal relations following the resignation. This is required for institutional learning & accountability about what went wrong and why.

3. Conduct an independent external review of the Board and its practices, including:

  • How new Board members are trained (past two years);
  • How meetings are scheduled and announced;
  • Time given to members to review the agenda and materials in advance of meetings;
  • Recording of meetings, minutes, and record-keeping (including voting records);
  • The existence of secret subcommittees (extracommittee meetings between Board members);
  • Communications within the Board and between the Board and its members with the president, executives, and deans;
  • Communication and transparency with the university community of Board activities;
  • Management of conflicts of interest between Board members and the university.

4. Identify best governance practices for university boards (e.g. as outlined by the Association of Governing Boards) and implement them.

5. Clarify responsibilities for the different governing bodies at the university and proper lines, methods, and documentation of communication between Board members, the president, the executive, the senates, and the deans.

6. The faculty within a department should be consulted and polled about their choice of department head to inform these appointments.

7. Vice presidents, directorships, and executive posts should be held by tenure-track faculty. Exceptions should be rare, well justified, and approved by the appropriate governing body.

8. Launch a UBC Dialogues Series on Academic Freedom, Governance, and Social Justice at the University organized by and for students, community members, members of the Musqueam First Nation, faculty, and staff who are interested in the welfare of UBC.

The next three recommendations may require amendments to the University Act:

9. Make the Faculty Senate consist of faculty. Department heads, associate deans, deans, and other administrators should not be eligible for the Faculty Senate.

10. The Senate, not the Board, should submit nominations for new appointments to the Board, with an eye toward building a Board that represents the diversity and excellence of the people of British Columbia.

11. The number of faculty on the Board will be raised to at least 25% of its composition, consistent with peer institutions.

The Following Year (2017-18)

12. When the above steps have been accomplished, begin the search for a new president. The number of faculty on the Presidential Search Committee should be at least 25% of its composition.

13.  As part of their campus interviews, short-listed presidential candidates will present to a forum of faculty, consistent with UBC faculty wishes and AAUP guidelines.

14. A new president, with enthusiastic support from the faculty, will be inaugurated in the fall of 2018.

15. Recreate the Faculty Club, where faculty across campus can gather, meet, dine, and host visitors. Small dues will be mandatory and drawn pre-tax from faculty salaries.