Freedom of Expression at UBC

NB: UBC has recently released a draft freedom of expression statement and requested feedback on it. I was privileged to be on the committee that helped draft the statement. I learned much from the experience. In lieu of commenting upon the draft, I offer instead a statement as I might have written one. What I learned from colleagues on the committee informs my statement below, but I would not suggest  that any of them would endorse it.

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Recent events, especially in the United States of America (for example, at the University of Virginia and at the University of Florida), have triggered much discussion of the proper protections for free speech on university campuses. A number of US universities, notably Berkeley and Chicago, have issued statements expressing their commitments to the protection of free speech on campus. Free speech issues also exist in Canada and have been brought to recent prominence not only due to our proximity to the US but also due to events at Canadian universities (for example, Dalhousie and University of Toronto)–and due to larger Canadian issues such as the truth and reconciliation project between settler Canadians and Indigenous peoples.

In matters of freedom of expression, the Canadian context is emphatically not the US context. While freedom of expression is one of the “fundamental freedoms” guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is not granted extraordinary or pre-eminent status in the Charter. All the fundamental freedoms (which include freedom of religion, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of the press) are granted equivalent status with various other sorts of rights, including democratic, mobility, legal, and equality rights. The relation of the Charter to public Canadian universities is a complex matter, but it would be fair to say that Canadian universities do and ought to subscribe to Charter values. Another crucial difference between the Canadian and US contexts is that Canada itself and the Canadian provinces and territories have hate speech laws. That is, as both a legal and a cultural matter, freedom of speech in Canada is different from freedom of speech in the United States.

Freedom of expression requires special consideration within university communities. The value and nature of freedom of expression within any community depends on that community’s goals–and the primary goals of a university community are the production, communication, and preservation of knowledge. Responsible expression within our communities is directed toward these goals. Thus, a university should reject any conception of freedom of expression that claims such freedom amounts to the freedom strongly to express one’s already-formed opinions. The free expression of already-formed opinions is one starting point for academic discussions but it must not be the general form of those discussions. The already-formed opinions of the members of the scholarly community are precisely what freedom of expression is meant to challenge and what a free exchange of ideas is meant to supplant with more well-supported and well-argued knowledge claims. Demanding your right to proclaim your already-formed opinions, accordingly, is a misunderstanding of the role of speech and of argument in the production and transfer of knowledge. It is not what freedom of expression is or should be at universities.

The equality rights in the Charter, the hate speech laws of various Canadian jurisdictions, and various policies such as the UBC Respectful Environment Statement acquire particular importance in the university context. When a person is admitted as a student to a university or is hired as a faculty or staff member, that person is admitted into the scholarly community that forms the institution. The university has already decided that that individual has the right to speak in the critical discussion that we take on as a necessary part of our mission. The fitness of those admitted to our community to join that discussion is no longer an open question. Speech that calls that right into question by denigrating the religious beliefs, the ethnic or national identity, the sexual orientation, the gender expression, and so on of some community members is speech that performs discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization. It is speech that renders some members of our community unable fully to speak by denying that they are worth listening to. That disabling of certain speakers must not be tolerated; it is itself antithetical to the proper goals of freedom of expression within our community.

This is not an argument for banning abhorrent speech; it is an argument for upholding the norms of the constitution of our academic communities, substantive norms we have chosen because they are necessary if we are to reach our academic goals. It is an argument that hate speech harms the very practices that universities are charged to engage in. It is an argument that speech partially constitutes our social relations and must be engaged in responsibly.  UBC has noted this in its Respectful Environment Statement:

“Freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry must be exercised responsibly, in ways that recognize and respect the dignity of others, having careful regard to the dynamics of different relationships within the university environment, such as between professor and student, or supervisor and employee.”

Those who wish to use their freedom of expression simply to repeat their already-formed opinions will find many outlets for so doing. But those who wish to engage with us at UBC, should come to speak, to listen, genuinely to discuss and argue about topics currently under discussion within our community. If they are unwilling to do these things, then we and they must recognize that they seek in the university not an audience but a platform, that they come not to enter our community of inquiry but to disrupt it. They have the right to try to disrupt our community; we have the right to uphold it. And we will uphold it.

At UBC we have a special resource to help us understand and further the free expression that is necessary for our pursuit of knowledge. Our campuses are on traditional, ancestral, and unceded Aboriginal territory. The First Nations that are our hosts have their own practices of free expression and truth telling. As we move toward truth and reconciliation, toward decolonization, we have much to learn from First Nations communities about how to structure our community and how to discover and communicate significant knowledge.

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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)

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.

Sincerely,

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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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.

 

 

Saving Senate from itself

Much has been made at UBC on the subject of governance, sparked by such diverse issues as the sudden resignation of Arvind Gupta, the violation of academic freedom that occurred in the aftermath of the resignation, the university’s non-response to complaints of sexual assault, and the handling of a petition to ask for divestment from fossil fuels.

Most of the discussion has been focussed narrowly on the Board of Governors and senior administrators, since it is within their ambit that this series of unfortunate events lies. A vote of non-confidence in the Board was held, and more than 800 faculty members voted to censure the Board for its perceived failures.

But largely forgotten in the discussion are the facts that UBC is a bicameral institution, and that the UBC Senate is is endowed by the University Act with expansive powers to manage the academic affairs of the institution. In principle at least, the Senate is one of the routes that faculty have towards self-governance. One is led to ask, therefore, whether the state of governance at Senate is any better than it is in the university at large. Regrettably, the answer seems to be in the negative, and many of the problems seem to be common to the university as a whole.

Dysfunction at Senate came to light this week by way of a motion tucked away on page 148 of the docket for the meeting scheduled for September 14th. This item contains a list of 4 names advanced by the Senate Nominations Committee to be members of the search team for the new Provost and VP Academic, as mandated by UBC’s Policy 18. The four persons named on the list were a current Dean  (as required by policy 18), a former Dean, a current Associate Dean, and a member of the Senate Nominations Committee responsible for producing the list in the first place. In other words,  two administrators, a former administrator, and a person who nominated himself. No student was selected, despite the fact that student representation is explicitly mentioned in Policy 18, and neither was any rank-and-file faculty member. The list was produced without any broad call for candidates, either within Senate, or to the university as a whole.

Fortunately, consideration of this list was postponed by President Ono, who has asked the Senate to solicit nominations for his advisory committees from the community. In a further — and most welcome — development he also expressed, in his comments at Senate, his desire to conduct an open search for the Provost, and to give the community the opportunity to interact with the candidates. One can only hope that such a process is indeed adopted, and that Professor Ono’s demonstrated commitment to transparency becomes part of the culture at UBC.

A closer look at the powers of the Senate Nominations Committee and at the way it is established, is revealing by way of contrast. The Nominations Committee is responsible for setting the membership of every other Senate committee, and for nominating Senate-selected persons to university wide searches for such persons as the President, Provost, or other senior administrators. In some very real way, it is the most powerful of all the committees on Senate, in as much as it gets to decide which Senators have roles in such key committees as the ones dealing with academic policy, academic disciple, or the agenda committee, the last of which determines which issues are or are not considered in Senate.

So who gets to be on the Nominations Committee? Does it nominate itself? The Senate website is largely uninformative on this point. But, as it turns out, the committee is elected on at the very first meeting of a newly constituted Senate — its membership is determined by vote prior even to the first meeting. While the exact procedures are obscure, it appears that the nominations and voting take place in the summer prior to a new Senate being struck, and before the new members of Senate have even met or interacted with the people whom they are supposed to elect. It is hard to imagine how such procedure is compatible with even the most elementary notions of good governance. Forming the most important committee of Senate when Senate is in recess, and prior to formation of the new Senate, seems designed to be perversely antidemocratic and to suppress broad participation.

Predictably enough, the nominations generated by this committee are not the sort that inspire confidence. The same names show up multiple times on many of the important internal senate committees, and in this year’s round of nominations to the various external searches, many large constituencies, such as the Faculties of Science, Law, Education, and Commerce have no representation whatsoever. The questionable practice of naming people serving on the nominations  committee itself to the committees it is supposed to populate also seems to be accepted.

Sad to say, the Senate, is just as much in need of a governance review as the rest of the university. It appears to be run under arcane and arbitrary and undemocratic procedures, which are not documented and which live in the folklore of the administrators charged with running the system. This is a UBC-wide phenomenon — there are few documented procedures for managing such basic issues as access to information, conflict of interest, or public accountability, and little credible oversight, leading to major decisions and processes being conducted in inappropriate and ad-hoc ways. Certain individuals occupy key adminstrative roles for extended periods of time (decades, in some cases), and inevitably, institutional inertia sets in.

This pattern can be seen repeating itself in many of the issues cited at the beginning of this post — such topics as managing the university president, or handling sexual assault are inherently delicate and complex, but it is abundantly clear that the problems were amplified by poor decisions around process and communication. At the end of the day, university actors such as Board members or Senators presumably try to follow the rules (in as much as any rules exist) so the first step to good governance is to carefully consider the basic operational framework in which the Board and Senate operate, and to set clear and public standards for accountability, fairness, accountability, and transparency in administrative processes. Points of administrative weakness (and I would suggest that poor communications and general indifference to due process and the public interest are high on that list) should be identified, and appropriate remedies put in place. Poor governance is not a Board issue, or a Senate issue — it is a UBC issue, and our whole administrative  culture is infected.