Do private programs belong at public universities?

The University of Victoria has contracted with the Canadian telecom giant Telus to deliver a “customized” MBA program to Telus employees.

Telus executives will be teaching some of the courses; the instructors from UVic will apparently be teaching on contracts separate from their regular employment with the university. The details are sketchy because the agreement between the UVic and Telus is secret.

Here’s university’s press release on the new program, which is offered in the Sardul S. Gill Graduate School within UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. The program gets started this month.

The program is the brain child of Telus’s “Chief Envisioner,” Dan Pontefract. Pontefract described the context and goals of the program in an Forbes magazine article this past August, “Going Back To School With A Corporate MBA Program.” (A Huffington Post version of the article appeared in September, “Why Corporations Should Launch Their Own MBA Programs“).

Victoria’s Times-Colonist and The Tyee have also run articles about the program.

Neither Telus nor UVic have (or plan to) release details of the financial agreement, as The Times-Colonist reports

As for the revenue, neither Telus nor UVic would divulge what Telus is paying. Klein noted all costs, including establishing the program and its infrastructure, tuition and overhead costs, were being covered by Telus and there is also a financial consideration that amounts to a profit for the school.

The program raises a raft of questions about academic governance, academic freedom, the vulnerability of public universities to corporate incursions as a result of budget slashing governments.

This program represent the next step in the ever evolving corporatization of the university, another neoliberal education policy that socializes costs and privatizes benefits.

I appeared on CBC Radio’s The 180 with Jim Brown (along with Pontefract) to discuss the UVic/Telus MBA program and the  corporatization of academe.

The 12 minute segment will be broadcast tomorrow (October 4, 2015), but you can stream the segment online now: Do private programs belong at public universities?

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Teaching and the ideology of neutrality

This week, in my course on secondary social studies curriculum, we discussed various ideological stances toward curriculum. Predictably, the issue of “neutrality” in social studies teaching came up.

Indeed, my students reported that as part of their professional preparation in the UBC B.Ed. program they have been repeatedly told that teachers should always strive for neutrality in their classrooms, I disagree.

Teaching (and curriculum) cannot be separated from politics. And, adopting the ideology of neutrality is to surrender agency and professionalism as a classroom teacher.

The ideology of neutrality is based upon theories of knowledge and conceptions of democracy that constrain rather than widen civic participation and has consequences that include passive, rather than active, learning; representation of democratic citizenship as a spectator project; and ultimately the maintenance of status quo inequalities in society.

Below is an excerpt from a recent paper I wrote with Kevin D. Vinson that takes up the issue.

Ideology of Neutrality, or What Exactly Are We Protecting Students From?

… Educators often eschew openly political or ideological agendas for teaching and schools as inappropriate or “unprofessional.” The question, however, is not whether to allow political discourse in schools or to encourage particular social visions in the classroom, but rather what kind of social visions will be taught?

There is a misguided and unfortunate tendency in our society to believe that activities that strengthen or maintain the status quo are neutral or at least non-political, while activities that critique or challenge the status quo are “political” and inappropriate. For example, for a company to advertise its product as a good thing, something consumers should buy, is not viewed as a political act. But, if a consumer group takes out an advertisement charging that the company’s product is not good, perhaps even harmful, this is often understood as political action.

This type of thinking permeates our society, particularly when it comes to schooling and teaching. “Stick to the facts.” “Guard against bias.” “Maintain neutrality.” These are admonitions or goals expressed by some teachers when asked to identify the keys to successful teaching. Many of these same teachers (and teacher educators) conceive of their roles as designing and teaching courses to ensure that students are prepared to function non-disruptively in society as it exists. This is thought to be a desirable goal, in part, because it strengthens the status quo and is seen as being an “unbiased” or “neutral” position. Many of these same teachers view their work in school as apolitical, a matter of effectively covering the curriculum, imparting academic skills, and preparing students for whatever high-stakes tests they might face. Often these teachers have attended teacher education programs designed to ensure that they were prepared to adapt to the status quo in schools.

Anyone who has paid attention to the debates on curriculum and school reform knows that schooling is a decidedly political enterprise (DeLeon & Ross, 2010; Mathison & Ross, 2008a; Mathison & Ross, 2008b; Ross & Gibson, 2007; Ross & Marker, 2005a, 2005b, 2005c). The question in teaching (as well as teacher education and school reform) is not whether to allow political discourse in schools or whether to advocate or not, but the nature and extent of political discourse and advocacy. “The question is not whether to encourage a particular social vision in the classroom but what kind of social vision it will be” (Teitelbaum, 1998, p. 32).

It is widely believed that neutrality, objectivity, and unbiasedness are largely the same thing and always good when it comes to schools and teaching. But, consider the following. Neutrality is a political category—that is—not supporting any factions in a dispute. Holding a neutral stance in a conflict is no more likely to ensure rightness or objectivity than any other and may be a sign of ignorance of the issues. Michael Scriven (1991) puts it this way: “Being neutral is often a sign of error in a given dispute and can be a sign of bias; more often it is a sign of ignorance, sometimes of culpable or disabling ignorance” (p. 68). Demanding neutrality of schools and teachers comes at a cost. As Scriven points out there are “clearly situations in which one wants to say that being neutral is a sign of bias” (p. 67). For example, being neutral in the debate on the occurrence of the Holocaust; a debate on atomic theory with Christian Scientists; or a debate with fundamentalist Christians over the origins of life and evolution. To rephrase Scriven, it seems better not to require that schools include only neutral teachers at the cost of including ignoramuses or cowards and getting superficial teaching and curriculum.

Absence of bias is not absence of convictions in an area, thus neutrality is not objectivity. To be objective is to be unbiased or unprejudiced. People are often misled to think that anyone who comes into a discussion with strong views about an issue cannot be unprejudiced. The key question, however, is whether and how the views are justified (e.g., Scriven, 1994).

“A knowledge claim gains objectivity…to the degree that it is the product of exposure to the fullest range of criticisms and perspectives” (Anderson, 1995, p. 198). Or as John Dewey (1910) argued, thoughts and beliefs that depend upon authority (e.g., tradition, instruction, imitation) and are not based on a survey of evidence are prejudices, prejudgments. Thus, achieving objectivity in teaching and the curriculum requires that we take seriously alternative perspectives and criticisms of any particular knowledge claim. How is it possible to have or strive for objectivity in schools where political discourse is circumscribed and neutrality is demanded? Achieving pedagogical objectivity is no easy task. The objective teacher considers the most persuasive arguments for different points of view on a given issue; demonstrates evenhandedness; focuses on positions that are supported by evidence, etc.

This kind of approach is not easy, and often requires significant quantities of time, discipline, and imagination. In this light, it is not surprising that objectivity is sometimes regarded as impossible, particularly with contemporary social issues in which the subject matter is often controversial and seemingly more open to multiple perspectives than in the natural sciences. However, to borrow a phrase from Karl Popper, objectivity in teaching can be considered a “regulative principle,” something toward which one should strive but which one can never attain. (Corngold & Waddington, 2006, p. 6)

The “ideology of neutrality” that dominates current thought and practices in schools (and in teacher education) is sustained by theories of knowledge and conceptions of democracy that constrain rather than widen civic participation in our society and functions to obscure political and ideological consequences of so-called “neutral” schooling, teaching, and curriculum. These consequences include conceptions of the learner as passive; democratic citizenship as a spectator project; and ultimately the maintenance of status quo inequalities in society.


For more on this issue, you may want to read this piece: “Redrawing the Lines: The Case Against Traditional Social Studies Instruction.”

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Why the UBC Leadership Crisis Matters Beyond the Ivory Tower

The ongoing drama at University of British Columbia may look like a tempest in a teapot, but the dispute among university governors, managers, and faculty has implications that reach beyond the ivory tower.

Two principles are at the heart of the crisis: transparency in governance and academic freedom.

The early August announcement that Arvind Gupta had suddenly and immediately resigned as president was startling, coming just 13 months after his term began. In March 2014, UBC Board Chair John Montalbano said “The opportunity to lead one of the world’s great universities attracted outstanding candidates, but Dr. Arvind Gupta clearly stood out as the best choice to lead this great university.”

What happened?

Well, Montalbano and the UBC Board are not saying. The Board justifies its silence by pointing to non-disclosure agreements, which they drafted and signed, as did Gupta.

Non-disclosure agreements protect secrets. The Board ruled out issues of competence, discipline, and health as reasons for Gupta’s departure. Which makes many wonder why no reasonable explanation has been offered.

Why shouldn’t we just accept the Board’s decision and move on? Because effective oversight of government and public institutions requires transparency, access to information, which helps to hold officials accountable and ensure public interests are served.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who is responsible for appointing a majority of the UBC Board, says “open government is about giving people a sense of confidence that government is working for them, not trying to do something to them.” And, that is exactly the point. Clandestine Board meetings – which are the norm at UBC – and refusal to fully disclose information lead people to believe that something is being done to them.

Mark Mac Lean, UBC Faculty Association president, has argued that in “the absence of an informed explanation” any non-disclosure provisions related to Gupta’s departure are “contrary to the public interest and contrary to the best practices expected of a major public institution.” If you support open and transparent government, I do not understand how you could disagree.

Two days after the Gupta announcement, Kris Olds, a UBC graduate and global higher education expert, wrote that a key lesson from recent university leadership crises is that an early lack of transparency and full communication heightens the risk of a major crisis erupting.

And just days later, as predicted, UBC was in damage-control while the crisis went from from bad to worse, with a faculty revolt and full blown public relations disaster.

A major complicating factor is the allegation that Board Chair Montalbano interfered with the academic freedom of Professor Jennifer Berdahl, attempting to silence her. A charge he has denied.

Following the announcement of Gupta’s departure, Berdahl wrote that perhaps Gupta had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

Some in the media have dismissed Berdahl’s analysis; made jokes about it.

Research on the gendered nature of work is no joke, but only a few insiders know whether this dynamic applies in Gupta’s case. Berdahl’s perspective isn’t constructed out of thin air, it is based on her experience of UBC as workplace and her academic expertise.

As the Montalbano Professor in Leadership Studies, Berdahl studies power, discrimination, harassment, and diversity. Her mandate is to promote diverse leadership. One of the research groups she leads focuses on work as a masculinity contest, an effort that is, ironically, funded by donations from Montalbano and his employer, Royal Bank of Canada.

So when the board chair – who also happens to be on the advisory board of your faculty, and a major donor to the university ­– calls to discuss your critical analysis of the decision he just announced, direct threats do not have to be made. The power imbalance makes it nearly impossible the conversation to be a collegial exchange.

Obviously, Berdahl was not cowed, but it’s fair to say that in similar situations many others would be. As a recent New York Times article puts it “when you’re in charge, your whisper may feel like a shout.”

Universities exist for the common good, not to further the interest of an individual or institution as a whole.

And, as the influential 1940 statement of American Association of University Professors argues, the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression. These are principles that are clearly stated and even extended further in the policies of UBC.

Transparency in governance and academic freedom contribute in profound ways to the health of democracy and the common good.

Secrecy is an obstacle to good and open governance.

Actions that have the effect of intimidating or harassing (whether intended or not) undermine the ability of people to “freely work, live, examine, question, teach, learn, comment and criticize,” activities that the UBC Board of Governors state they are committed to maintaining at every level of the university.

It is time for the Board to start walking its talk, if they don’t they are damaging more than a university.

[This article was published August 27, 2015 in the Times Colonist (Victoria, BC).]

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How not to run a university (Part 3): The art of misdirection [updated]

If you thought UBC was actually investigating the charges its board chairman breeched the academic freedom of a professor, you’d be wrong. 

Following the University of British Columbia Board of Governors’ secret  meeting on Monday, Angela Redish (Provost Pro Tem) and Martha Piper (Interim President) released a statement on academic freedom.

This statement was widely reported as an announcement that UBC was initiating an active investigation of the charges made by Professor Jennifer Berdahl against UBC Board of Governors Chair John Montalbano for breeching her academic freedom in his response to her analysis of the sudden departure of Arvind Gupta as UBC’s president. Details here and here.

Sample headlines:

UBC statement: “Serious” allegations of breaches of academic freedom to be investigated [Georgia Straight]

UBC to investigate Prof. Jennifer Berdahl’s claim she felt ‘gagged’ [CBC]

UBC to investigate complaint over blog post about former president [Globe and Mail]

Problem is the Redish/Piper statement does not actually say that there is or will be an investigation.

The Redish/Piper statement only describes the existing UBC policies on academic freedom and grievance and arbitration procedures.

Redish and Piper state,

UBC has rigorous processes in place – established with the agreement of the Faculty Association – to investigate any allegation of breach of academic freedom. It is imperative that we follow this impartial process embedded within and protected by the collective agreement before pre-judging unproven and untested allegations at this time.

The high and mighty tone of the statement regarding UBC’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom and “rigorous processes” is a misdirection from the fact that this statement does not announce an investigation of Berdahl’s complaints that Montalbano breeched her academic freedom.

All the bluster about academic freedom is followed by a non-sequitur describing a non-existent investigation.

The facts will be gathered and all parties will be heard before reaching any conclusion. We welcome this process and it would be entirely inappropriate to comment further on the allegations until this process has been concluded.

Presuming the process would actually ever start.

It is curious that the Redish/Piper statement focuses on the university’s collective agreement with faculty and does not mention the UBC Board of Governors Policy 3 on Discrimination and Harassment.

Investigation of the academic freedom charges via the collective agreement requires an individual faculty member (or the UBCFA) to file a complaint. This raises interesting questions: Why would Professor Berdahl file a grievance via collective agreement processes? What kind of remedy could she possibly receive as a result of the process?

Berdahal’s blog post on academic freedom says as much, that is, as a tenured full professor she can continue to exercise her academic freedom, albeit in an hostile environment. And, as she points out, the most deleterious of the effects of Montalbano’s meddling will be on faculty and students who do not have the protection of tenure, creating a chilling effect on critical discourse.

Indeed, today’s announcement by the UBC Faculty Association describes how the usual collective agreement processes have been already ben undermined by Montalbano and the university:

… the University itself has sidestepped standard protocols for handling grievances. More specifically, the Chair of the Board of Governors, the Board’s chief spokesperson, gave public, personal testimony related to the case in a University media release. We were shocked that this happened in a formal University media release posted on a University website. (This media release seems to have been removed from late Tuesday evening. We have a downloaded copy.) Mr. Montalbano has confused personal interests with the University’s interests. …

While the University has publicly said that a grievance involving Mr. Montalbano could be managed under our usual collective agreement processes, this no longer seemed possible.

So, if UBC leadership is serious about investigating the alleged breech of academic freedom in the Montalbano/Berdahl case they could and should proceed via Policy 3 on Discrimination and Harassment, which is what they should have done in the first place.

Policy 3 begins with this statement,

The University of British Columbia has responsibility for and is committed to providing its students, staff and faculty with an environment dedicated to excellence, equity and mutual respect; one that is free of Discrimination and Harassment; and one in which the ability to freely work, live, examine, question, teach, learn, comment and criticize is protected. Academic Freedom and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression carries with it the expectation that all Members of the University Community will conduct themselves in a responsible manner so as not to cause, condone or participate in the Discrimination or Harassment of another person or group of persons.

There is no doubt Policy 3 is relevant in this circumstance.

The fundamental objective of Policy 3 is prevention discrimination and harassment on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Code, and it provides procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such discrimination or harassment does occur.

The responsible executive for initiating an investigation under Policy 3 is the Provost and Vice-President Academic, Angela Redish.

UBC is making a quite a name for itself as a result of its lack of transparency in governance and administration.

The shroud of secrecy around the departure of Arvind Gupta is at the heart of the current crisis. And the lack of clarity about the actions of the Board and the administration in responding to Professor Berdahl’s academic freedom charges only compounds how the university’s leadership crisis is undermining academic integrity at UBC.

UBC needs to makes clear if there is an active investigation on Berdahl’s complaint and what the terms of reference are for that investigation. Or, admit that the university is not as dedicated to preserving academic freedom as they have claimed to be.

Related posts:
How not to run a university (Part 2): Intimidation, bullying & harassment at UBC
How not to run a university (Part 1): Secrecy at UBC
Arvind Gupta: Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns …

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How not to run a university (Part 2): Intimidation, bullying & harassment at UBC

What should a university do when the chair of its board of governors uses intimidation tactics in an attempt to bully and harass a faculty member who critically analyzes university decisions?

This is the question facing the University of British Columbia today following Professor Jennifer Berdahl‘s revelations in a blog posted last night.

Following the announcement of Arvind Gupta’s sudden and mysterious departure as president of UBC, Berdahl suggested that perhaps Gupta had “lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men.”

I was initially skeptical of  Berdahl’s speculation, but it seems that UBC Board of Governors Chair John Montalbano is hell bent on proving her right.

Berdahl’s blog describes attempts by Montalbano and the administration of the UBC Sauder School of Business — where Berdahl is (ironically) the Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and Diversity — to intimidate and bully her over the issues she raised in her initial blog post.

According to Berdahl, Montalbano phoned her to say that her blog post

was “incredibly hurtful, inaccurate, and greatly unfair to the Board” and “greatly and grossly embarrassing to the Board.” He said I had made him “look like a hypocrite.” He said my post would cause others to question my academic credibility. He repeatedly mentioned having conversations with my Dean about it. He also repeatedly brought up RBC, which funds my outreach activities, to say that people there were on “damage control” should the media pick up on this.

Then the Sauder School managers and bureaucrats started their harassment campaign.

They proceeded to tell me that my blog post had done serious reputational damage to Sauder and to UBC, and that I had deeply upset one of the most powerful donors to the School who also happened to be the Chair of the Board of Governors. They said they had heard he was even more upset after talking to me on the phone that day.

Berdahl was summoned to the Sauder dean’s office, but the meeting was canceled when she said she’d be there with representation.

This might seem small potatoes to folks outside academe, but assuming her account is accurate (and there is absolutely no reason to doubt it), this is a direct attack on academic freedom by the chair of the university board of governors.

Montalbano’s actions along with those of Sauder School managers at the very least creates a chilling climate for professors, staff, and students.

Berdahl’s description captures it perfectly when she writes:

When I imagine being an assistant professor at this university, or anyone without the protection of tenure, this experience becomes unspeakable. I would be terrified, not angry. I would have retracted my post, or not have written it at all. I would avoid studying and speaking on controversial topics.

Imagine a university of scholars so silenced, and the implications for the world we live in.

Not only has Montalbano engaged in a crass attempt to silence a university professor speaking out in her area of expertise, his actions are in violation of the UBC Board of Governors Policy 3 on Discrimination and Harassment, which states:

The University of British Columbia has responsibility for and is committed to providing its students, staff and faculty with an environment dedicated to excellence, equity and mutual respect; one that is free of Discrimination and Harassment; and one in which the ability to freely work, live, examine, question, teach, learn, comment and criticize is protected. Academic Freedom and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression carries with it the expectation that all Members of the University Community will conduct themselves in a responsible manner so as not to cause, condone or participate in the Discrimination or Harassment of another person or group of persons.

UBC has gone to great lengths to publicize its respectful environment statement, which is based upon Policy 3 and the university has not hesitated to initiate investigations of faculty and staff and apply sanctions based upon these policies.

Given what we know about Montalbano and Sauder School managers’ actions in this case, there should at least be an immediate investigation. The responsible executive for Policy 3 is the Provost and Vice President – Academic, currently Angela Redish.

What should a university do when the chair of its board of governors uses intimidation tactics in an attempt to bully and harass a faculty member who critically analyzes university decisions? Well, if they are actually serious about creating a climate where academic freedom flourishes and bullying, harassment, and discrimination are discouraged then John Montalbano should choose to “return to his career in banking.”


Related posts:
How not to run a university (Part 3): The art of misdirection [updated]
How not to run a university (Part 1): Secrecy at UBC
Arvind Gupta: Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns …

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How not to run a university (Part 1): Secrecy at UBC

Here in Vancouver you learn to live with the months of rain and overcast skies and when the sun shines you can feel the happy vibe just about everywhere you go.

But there is at least one group of folks in Rain City who will do just about anything to avoid sunshine and they’re not vampires, as far as I know. I’m talking about the University of British Columbia Board of Governors and they are apparently trying to suck the life out the university.

On August 7 the UBC Board of Governors announced the departure of the university’s president, Arvind Gupta.

The 13th president of UBC resigns, with no explanation, 13 months into a four year term. For all we know Gutpa resigned because triskaidekaphobia.

(Here’s my overview of the UBC leadership debacle up to yesterday).

The mystery surrounding Gupta’s departure and the Board’s (and Gupta’s) silence on the matter has stirred up quite a bit a speculation. Board chair John Montalbano has constructed a wall around himself, built with non-disclosure agreements and appeals to personnel case privacy so as to control information and thus avoid accountability for Board decision-making.

The Board’s lack of transparency and full communication is not new, indeed this board that has gone to great lengths to make their deliberations inaccessible and keep the public ignorant.

The UBC Board even keeps the contact information for Board chair Montalbano and UBC Chancellor Lindsay Gordon under wraps.

It’s clear that UBC Board of Governors needs a big old dose of sunshine on their activities to hold them accountable for their actions.

One response to current UBC leadership crisis would be for real open government regulations to be enacted for the university and the provincial government as a whole.

We’re in dire need of some sunshine laws to make meetings, records, votes, deliberations and other official actions available to the public. Without these, a small number of appointees are able to make major decisions about a public institution under a cloak of invisibility.


Related posts:
How not to run a university (Part 3): The art of misdirection [updated]
How not to run a university (Part 2): Intimidation, bullying & harassment at UBC
Arvind Gupta: Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns …

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UBC Board of Governors’ response to faculty questions on Gutpa’s resignation … “run along now, it’s none of your business” [updated]

In his response to questions raised by the University of British Columbia Faculty Association regarding last week’s departure of UBC president Arvind Gupta, UBC Board of Governors chair John Montalbano offers the equivalent of a pat on the head and a cheery “run along now, it’s none of your business.”

Montalbano and the UBC Board of Governors continue to operate in secret, striving to keep the public as well as university faculty, staff, and students ignorant of the rationales and actions of the highest governing body of this (when I last checked) public institution.

In his response to UBCFA president Mark Mac Lean, Montalbano said the board recognizes in the absence of “concrete information” there will be speculation on the circumstances of Gupta’ departure as president. While he stated that “the rumours or speculations that have been publicly raised have contained numerous inaccuracies” he offered no clarifications nor did he offer any explanation about what transpired to end Professor Gupta’s presidency after only one year, or what caused this leadership crisis.

In his letter, Montalbano declared that the Board acted “in accordance with” the University Act and UBC Policies; that the Gupta’s departure was not a failure in governance; and that the Board acted responsibly and with every consideration for fairness.

Oh, okay, if you say so … 

Montalbano writes, “The university is place of open dialogue and transparency,” but not when it comes to the Board of Governors.

Invoking “non-disclosure agreements” and the always dodgy “this is a personnel matter” excuse for the Board’s failure to be transparent and accountable to the university community and the public about the departure of the president of a university with 60,000 students, 15,000 faculty and staff, and a $2.1 billion budget, puts a lie to any rhetoric about UBC as a place of open dialogue and transparency.

In essence, Montalbano’s letter is a statement that he and the UBC Board of Governors are accountable to no one.

Have a question for the UBC Board? Be prepared to be treated like a mushroom.

Read Montalbano’s response to questions present by UBCFA President Mark Mac Lean:
UBC Board of Governors Chair Response to UBC FA on Resignation of Arvind Gupta


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UBC Faculty Association: Gupta resignation a failure in governance

The UBC Faculty Association statement on the recent resignation of UBC president Arvind Gupta describes the situation as “a failure point in the governance of the University.”

In a message to UBC Vancouver faculty, UBC FA President Mark Mac Lean said “we need to understand this failure and the Board must recognize that we cannot move on until we do.”

Gupta’s “sudden and immediate resignation” last Friday and the UBC Board of Governors lack of transparency on the reasons behind Gupta’s departure has produced much skepticism and speculation about the leadership of the university.

Mac Lean was very positive about the new directions of university under Gupta’s leadership, which included budget decisions “designed to move resources into the academic units and to mitigate the impacts that high growth rates of student numbers are having on the entire university.  As a result, significant amounts of money are set to move from non-academic operations to support research and teaching.”

Mac Lean echoed comments made by Prof. Jennifer Berdahl on her blog that Gupta viewed faculty as colleagues and wanted UBC to be a university where “faculty are supported and valued unconditionally.”

He added that “contrary to some of the public speculation since his resignation, [Gupta] had a serious plan well under development to achieve the goals he set for himself and the University, and faculty were at the heart of his plan.”

Let’s hope that the UBC FA, along with others, will be able to pry some answers out a notoriously secretive Board of Governors. The UBC FA’s questions include:

The Board of Governors must explain what transpired to end Professor Gupta’s Presidency after only one year.  What caused this leadership crisis?  

Does Professor Gupta’s resignation mean the Board no longer supports realigning the University’s resources to better support the research and teaching missions?

We have in progress searches for a Provost and VP Academic, a Vice President Research, and a Vice President External and Communications.  Those who fill these positions must ultimately hold the confidence of the President they will serve.  What will happen with these searches now? 

President Emerita Martha Piper has considerable experience as a past UBC President, but should she hire three key Vice Presidents for the next President of UBC?

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Arvind Gupta: Known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns …

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld

This past Friday the University of British Columbia Board of Governors announced that Arvind Gupta had resigned as president of the university. The announcement was shocking because Gupta had just completed the first year of his five-year term.

There very few knowns, a lot of unknowns, and perhaps even more speculations about Gupta’s “resignation.”

The announcement raises many questions as it came after an unscheduled Board of Governors meeting and Gupta was not quoted in the news release nor has he commented on his resignation. The past year has seen a wholesale shakeup of top administrators at UBC and now former UBC president Martha Piper has named as interim president (starting in September).

That giant sucking sound you heard the past few days is of speculation rushing in to fill to fill the vacuum in the UBC president’s office.

Is Gupta’s exit connected to the shake up of  high level executives in the university?

Charlie Smith speculates it might have something to do with the departure of Pierre Ouillet who was UBC’s Vice President Finance.

Smith has also offered that Gupta’s departure might be related to his inability to squeeze more money out of the provincial government or because transit referendum or because Christy Clark or because fundraising in general.

Jennifer Berdahl‘s suggestion that Gupta is out because he lost the “masculinity contest” among UBC’s administration seems to have a lot of popular support based on attention it’s getting in the twittersphere.

Berdahl is the Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies: Gender and Diversity in the Sauder School of Business at UBC. She wrote on her blog:

I believe that part of this outcome is that Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men. President Gupta was the first brown man to be UBC president. He isn’t tall or physically imposing. He advocates for women and visible minorities in leadership – a stance that has been empirically demonstrated to hurt men at work.

Berhdahl describes her positive working experiences with Gupta, but doesn’t offer evidence to support a claim that the masculinity contest theory applies to him in this circumstance.

There’s no denying that higher education is rife with workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing. (The journal Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor recently devoted an entire issue to this topic.)

When work is a “masculinity contest,” says Berdahl, “leadership does not earnestly seek expert input, express self-doubt, or empower low-status voices.” I’ve got no argument with her on this point. Indeed, in my dozen years on the faculty at UBC, I’d say that there has been no leadership at the faculty or university level that has earnestly sought input from anyone (much less experts), expressed self-doubt, or empowered low-status voices.

The standard operating procedure at UBC is akin to that of the British Empire of old. The king or queen makes a decision and then the shit then flows downhill. There might be an occasional “walk about” to see how the courtiers, knights, or peasants might react to this or that, but UBC is a top-down organization, run like an empire, or at least a corporation.

As Justin McElroy points out, whatever it is it’s no ordinary resignation.

McElroy’s exchange with Neal Yonson, who is editor of UBC Insiders, raises some interesting questions and offers up some possible explanations, that while speculative, aren’t tabloid fodder, and focus on the relationship between the BoG of the president’s office.

They make some good, if self-evident, points:

  • Gupta and the BoG didn’t see eye to eye;
  • After an 18 month transition from Steven Toope to Gupta, UBC is now facing another leadership transition after just one year and that will have deleterious effects on a multiple fronts, both internally and externally;
  • Numerous current upper administration jobs are filled with people who are new or in interim roles;
  • BoG’s move to bring in known quantity Piper might steady the ship administratively, but Piper is not student-friendly, especially on the tuition front;
  • UBC capital projects are in a holding pattern.

McElroy and Yonson say that despite the lack of external dissent, there were internal  “hints” that Gupta’s honeymoon was over, but university presidents always have their detractors and I don’t think the lack of “charm offensive” on Gupta’s part was key to his failure as president.

What they might not know is that this spring and summer there were rumours on campus that Gupta was in serious trouble with the BoG. I’m not enough of an insider have any substantive knowledge of those rumours, but I heard a university administrator opine that the BoG certainly wanted David Farrar, who left the position of Provost and Vice President Academic in June, to stay close at hand. Farrar was the third Vice President to vacate office under Gupta.

There are still lots of unknowns and UBC would be greatly served if the BoG and the university administration acted in more open and transparent ways. (Don’t hold your breath because as Yonson points out this is a board that wants to keep the public ignorant by operating in secret.)

If blame must be laid, there’s no getting around the fact that the UBC Board of Governors made a mistake in hiring Gupta.

If Gupta resigned of his own accord, then the BoG erred in hiring someone with no traditional higher ed administrative experience and for whatever reason (barring extremely personal reasons) could not handle the job.

If the BoG forced Gupta out, then they erred by making a non-traditional hire and then not giving Gupta a sufficient amount of time or the support to bring his vision to fruition.

Related posts:
How not to run a university (Part 3): The art of misdirection [updated]
How not to run a university (Part 2): Intimidation, bullying & harassment at UBC
How not to run a university (Part 1): Secrecy at UBC

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XXI Symposium on Research on Applied Linguistics & III International Symposium on Literacies and Discourse Studies – Call for Papers




This academic event is committed to the interdisciplinary promotion and support of research on literacies and discourse studies to push further the boundaries of applied linguistics. Papers drawing on research experiences around topics such as literacies, multilingualism(s) and discourse studies are welcome. Some key areas within these broad topics which contributors could explore include, but are not limited to:




Early literacy

Language planning & policy

Classroom discourse(s)

Digital literacy

Languages in contact

Political discourse(s)


Minority languages

Media discourse(s)


Community-based pedagogies in multilingual contexts



Margaret Hawkins, PhD
University of Wisconsin – USA

Gary Barkhuizen, PhD
The University of Auckland – New Zealand

Alvaro Quintero, PhD Candidate
Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas – Colombia

Download Call for Papers and Submission form here: CALL FOR PAPERS – 2015

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