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.


Stifling Academic Freedom: Who Knows?

Stifling Academic Freedom: Who Knows?

by Caroline Jenkins (Philosophy) and Jonathan Ichikawa (Philosophy)

Like many of our colleagues at UBC, we’re concerned about academic freedom. UBC’s governance crisis has contributed to a culture of fear. This week, Philip Steenkamp, UBC’s Vice President of External Affairs, asserted that we’re wrong to be concerned. “Categorically,” he told the CBC, “there is no such culture”.

We’ll take Steenkamp at face value—he genuinely believes there’s no culture of fear at UBC. But how would a Vice President of External Affairs know whether faculty members feel stifled? If they did, they wouldn’t speak up—so UBC’s higher-ups wouldn’t hear much about it spontaneously.

As is well-known to theorists of knowledge, one’s position in a power structure can affect one’s ability to know what’s going on. Just think of the sexist office culture of the 1960s. That sexism, undeniable in retrospect, was obscure to the men in charge. Don Draper couldn’t see what was obvious to Peggy Olson. This kind of ignorance is often recalcitrant: the privileged are motivated not to see certain things. As philosopher Charles Mills put it: “imagine an ignorance that fights back.”

Continue reading “Stifling Academic Freedom: Who Knows?”

Why I Lack Confidence in UBC’s Board of Governors: Its Disrespect for Faculty

Why I Lack Confidence in UBC’s Board of Governors: Its Disrespect for Faculty

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.

BoG No-Confidence Motion

BoG No-Confidence Motion

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. Continue reading “BoG No-Confidence Motion”

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.


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.