Tag Archives: Arvind Gupta

Comments on Academic Freedom at the University of British Columbia

Comments on Academic Freedom at the University of British Columbia
Delivered at “Breakfast with the Dean” panel April 21, 2016

E. Wayne Ross, PhD
Faculty of Education
University of British Columbia

First of all I would like to thank Dean Blye Frank for inviting me to participate on this panel and thanks to all of you for coming out this morning to participate in a discussion on academic freedom.

On the surface, it’s easy to be pro-academic freedom, kind of like being for mom and apple pie. But, academic freedom is a contested issue in universities (and schools, but that is a very different matter).

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), describes a number of major academic freedom cases in Canada ranging from the University of Manitoba blocking a documentary film that reports findings of research on genetically modified crops; to irregularities that lead to the suspension of David F. Noble’s appointment to an endowed chair at Simon Fraser University; to Mary Bryson, the Faculty’s senior associate dean, and her battle with UBC over intellectual property rights. The arbitration decision in the Bryson case is described by CAUT as “landmark in the struggle to insure that faculty, not administrators, determine the content of courses.”[1]

In recent years there has been international attention given to the academic freedom cases of Professors Norman G. Finkelstein and Steven Salaita, who lost jobs as a result of social justice scholarship and activism, in particular, criticisms of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians living under occupation.

Threats to academic freedom are real and have a long history in Canadian postsecondary education and beyond.

CAUT defines academic freedom, in part, as including:

the right, without restriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom to teach and discuss; freedom to carry out research and disseminate and publish the results thereof; freedom to produce and perform creative works; … freedom to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and the system in which one works; … Academic freedom always entails freedom from institutional censorship.

Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Academic freedom makes intellectual discourse, critique, and commitment possible.

Academic staff must not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as individuals including the right to contribute to social change through free expression of opinion on matters of public interest. Academic staff must not suffer any institutional penalties because of the exercise of such rights. [2]

In short academic freedom is essential to the mission of the university.

Dean Frank asked the members of this` panel to focus on issues of academic freedom in light of the current search to fill the new UBC position of Senior Advisor to the Provosts on Academic Freedom.

My first thought was that if we have provosts who need advisors on academic freedom, maybe they shouldn’t be provosts, really. But, perhaps I’m being too glib, even for a short breakfast talk.

Of course the creation of this new advisory position is the result of controversy created by the former chair of the UBC Board of Governors, John Montalbano, when he interfered with the academic freedom of Sauder School Professor Jennifer Berdahl, after she blogged about UBC President Arvind Gupta’s “resignation” after 13 months in office.[3]

Oh, wait a minute. Let me correct myself, like many of UBC’s self-investigation exercises the external report on the Berdahl case, written by former justice Lynn Smith, did not find fault with any individual university administrators.

“No individual intended to interfere with Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom, or made a direct attempt to do so… However, sometimes several relatively small mistakes can lead to a failure of the larger system.”

Despite whatever good intentions might lurk behind the creation of the new academic freedom advisor position – and I do believe that its existence is primarily a public relations effort – at best this position is a band-aid on a life-threatening wound and at worse it is yet another diversion – a manifestation of an ideological stance that is widely held in society and practically hegemonic in universities—liberal neutrality. I’ll briefly address both of these circumstances.

Corporatization of the University (The life-threatening wound)

The corporate takeover of education at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, facilitated is by governments that might best be described as executive committees of the rich.

The trouble begins when the framework for understanding the nature and aims of education and scholarship is as a tool vital for economic success. As Thomas Docherty argues in his book Universities at War, the university has become a servant of the national and provincial economies in the context of globalization. Its driving principles of private and personal enrichment are understood as necessary conditions of progress and modernity.

Docherty sees this circumstances as a radical impoverishment of the university’s capacities to extend human possibilities and freedoms, to seek earnestly for social justice, and to participate in the endless need for the extension of democracy. Docherty argues that we must take sides in this matter because market fundamentalists are on the march and the war is being fought not just for scholars but also for a more democratic, more just, more emancipatory way of life.

The Problem of “Liberal neutrality”

In her article “Why I’m Not a Liberal,” Robin Marie Averback argues that

“In the liberal imagination, education and accommodation are self-evident solutions, since the problem can neither be understood as a matter of brute power struggles nor as a product of structural inequality fundamental to the functioning of entire institutions … You can’t choose a side when liberalism insists there are no sides at all.”[4]

This notion, helps to explain how the Smith Report on the Berdahl academic freedom case creates a victim without a victimizer. This is a pattern played out in numerous instances at UBC in recently. See, for example, the reports on:

  • the privacy breach related to documents on the Arvind Gupta imbroglio[5]
  • Commerce Undergraduate Society Frosh Week “rape chants”[6]
  • UBC handling of sexual assault complaints[7]

Averback reminds us of the picture book version of social justice that we often see on walls of community centres,

“In this picture book version of social justice struggle, no one ever opposes freedom’s forward march. All the oppressed need to do is rise up and assert themselves; the world they are fighting for is realized simply by the act of self-declaration.”

At UBC everybody seems to be for academic freedom. It’s like a picture book version of academic freedom. But in the all-administrative university – a phrase coined by Benjamin Ginsberg in his book The Fall of the Faculty – the response of the administration to an academic freedom crisis is the creation of yet another administrative position, aimed at educating and accommodating.

This reminds me of a comment someone made in the context of the recent UBC Board of Governors debacle(s) and the compromised Presidential Search Committee, “UBC doesn’t need a new driver, because the problem is with the car.”

Here are some academic freedom issues that the new position will like never come close to addressing:

  • Intellectual property rights;
  • Corporate influence on campus academic programs and research.[8]
  • Faculty loss of control over academic programs (such as the teacher education program in our faculty)
  • Respectful workplace statements that become instruments that encourage bullying and mobbing of faculty with dissenting points of view or who merely ask questions that make people uncomfortable;
  • Middle managers, like those in Sauder, who intervene like their corporate counterparts to threaten the rank and file on issues of solidarity and criticism of management (e.g., the recent UBCFA no confidence vote);
  • People like those faculty members who have warned UBC Professor Jonathan Ichikawa (sponsor of the UBCFA no-confidence vote in the Board of Governors) that his activism would negatively affect his advancement at the university;
  • Students/faculty self-funding themselves;
  • Administrative efforts to “right-size” academic programs;
  • Tenure and promotion committees that forego evaluative reading of faculty scholarship and instead focus on impact factors or the amount of external dollars won in competitions.

When no one is understood as protecting a position of power (liberal neutrality) how do we combat these threats to academic freedom? I don’t think the answer is by appointing an advisor to the provost.

Questions for discussion:

To what degree are the new policies for academic speech inscribed in academic work, regardless of where it’s done? As the academic workplace is increasingly displaced and distributed, are academic policies displaced and distributed as well? Observed at work, monitored at home and tracked in between—these are not so much choices as the cold reality of 21st century academic work.[9]

BC Premier Christy Clark has warned provincial postsecondary institutions that they must do a better job of producing graduates who meet the needs of the private sector (2014 Throne Speech). What happens to academic freedom when universities are cast as servants to the provincial or national “economic success?”


[1] CAUT, Major Academic Freedom Cases: http://www.caut.ca/issues-and-campaigns/academic-freedom/academic-freedom-cases

[2] See full CAUT statement on academic freedom here: https://www.caut.ca/about-us/caut-policy/lists/caut-policy-statements/policy-statement-on-academic-freedom – sthash.0grFSra5.dpuf

[3] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-chair-john-montalbano-resigns-after-report-finds-academic-freedom-not-protected-1.3272776

[4] https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/07/why-im-not-a-liberal/

[5] http://universitycounsel.ubc.ca/files/2016/03/D-Loukidelis-Report-on-UBC-FOI-Processes-final-7-Mar-16.pdf

[6] http://president.ubc.ca/files/2013/09/Fact-Finding-Report-copy.pdf

[7] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ubc-sexual-assaults-complaints-expulsion-1.3328368

[8] See government appointments to UBC Board and U of Calgary/Enbridge relationship: http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/calgary/caut-ucalgary-uofc-dru-marshall-david-robinson-1.3531851

[9] See Petrina, Ross, & Mathison (2015). Threat convergence: The new academic work, bullying, mobbing and freedom. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, 24, 58-69. Retrieved from http://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/workplace/article/view/186137/185332

Vancouver Observer: Professors blast UBC’s “failures of governance”

The Vancouver Observer recently published a commentary co-authored by Sandra Mathison, Stephen Petrina and myself (co-directors of the Institute for Critical Education Studies) on the recent failures of governance at the University of British Columbia.

Read the piece on the Vancouver Observer site, here.

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UBC Faculty Association and student society call for external review of Board of Governors; Momentum gathers among faculty for UBCBoG no-confidence vote

With UBC’s crisis of administration and legitimacy growing worse, the Faculty Association has re-issued its call for an external review of the Board of Governors and its operations. Clearly, there are failures of governance and shadow systems of decision-making from the ranks of middle management to the top of the Board. The FAUBC announced today:

As the collective voice of faculty, charged with representing faculty interests and perspectives relevant to unfolding events at UBC, the Faculty Association, through its Executive, feels compelled at this time to raise a number of serious concerns. It has become clear that the University of British Columbia is in the midst of a governance crisis.

The events of the past year or so, as information about them slowly leaks out, demonstrate a failure of governance that threatens the integrity and credibility of the University. This is a singular moment in the 100-year history of UBC, the solution to which requires strong actions on the part of the Board of Governors.

We have called publicly for an external review of the Board and its operations. At this point, we re-issue this call. Such a review is essential to restore public trust in the Board. To accomplish this, the leadership for such a review must have the support of the University community – of faculty, students, staff, and alumni….

Some current members of the Board, including the Chancellor of UBC, have been shown in recent, now public, documents to have been involved in activities around the resignation of Dr. Gupta that appear to contravene standard and expected Board practices. Improper conduct of Board business is a serious matter. The former Chair of the Board, John Montalbano, has resigned. What onus of response falls on these other Board members, given these revelations?

UBCFA has posed specific questions about UBC Board practices, which include:

  1. In the leaked documents from last week, we have seen several examples of secret meetings without any subsequent public documentation of these meetings. Does the Board’s current practice of holding some full Board and committee meetings without published meeting dates, agendas, and motions passed (and hence of decisions taken) meet the expectations for accountability and transparency for BC public bodies, and the obligations placed on the Board under the law?
  2. Has the Board been properly constituting and documenting all of its committees and their work? For example, a previously unknown ad hoc committee appears to have been created to manage the Board’s interactions with Dr. Gupta in the time leading to his resignation. Where is the documentation for the motions that created this committee? What processes were used, and what records kept of these processes? How many other such committees are there? Why is it necessary to keep the existence of any committee secret? Do all Board members know about each of the ad hoc committees? Is the Board operating in a way that meets all of its obligations under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and the general guidelines for public bodies? Is it lawful for secret committees to take actions that are not publicly recorded and not available for public scrutiny?
  3. Two related concerns pertain to patterns of email business conducted by Board members. First, why are all Board members not using a UBC email address for all of their Board work? Second, how does that Board ensure that the work of the Board is properly recorded and archived? For example, the University’s response to one of the Faculty Association’s Freedom of Information requests for the Chancellor’s email correspondence around a critical event claims that Mr. Gordon had no emails that were captured by this request. However, other individuals covered under this same request provided several email chains relating to the event that included multiple emails to and from Mr. Gordon. Why were Mr. Gordon’s emails, which were clearly about University business, not provided by Mr. Gordon as the law provides? How are Mr. Gordon’s emails about university business thus archived? More generally, do the email processes of the Board meet all legal obligations applicable to the Board and to UBC as a public institution?

In addition to the UBCFA’s open letter to the UBC Board, momentum is gathering among faculty for a no-confidence vote on UBC Board. A rank and file group of university faculty members are currently mounting petition for a resolution to be presented to the UBC Faculty Association Executive Committee:

Whereas the UBC Board of Governors is required by law to act in the best interests of the University (BC University Act 19.2);

and whereas it has come to light that the Board has held secret, unannounced meetings of the Board, leaving no documentation of its activities;

and whereas Board members have formed secret ad hoc committees in which governance activities have been pursued without oversight and contrary to policy and procedural norms;

and whereas these committees and the Board have taken decisions or engaged in actions—such as declaring no confidence in the President with no formal review or input from faculty, declaring full confidence in the Chair after his role in interfering with a faculty member’s academic freedom, interpreting fiduciary duty to the university as pertaining to donors rather than its faculty, students, and staff—that are not obviously in the best interests of the University;

and whereas the Board has declined to explain such actions to the University community;

and whereas, consequently, we faculty members in good standing at UBC find that we cannot know—indeed, we have strong reason to doubt—that the Board has been operating in accordance with its legal obligations to the people of British Columbia;

therefore be it resolved that the Executive of the UBC Faculty Association, as soon as possible, bring a motion to its membership expressing no confidence in the UBC Board of Governors.

The UBC Alma Mater Society also publicly called for a review. The AMS urges the Board to enact the following changes:

  • That the incoming Chair of the Board of Governors instigate an external review process into governance practices;
  • That the Board of Governors delay approving any candidate proposed by the Presidential Search Committee until such time as the suggested external review is complete and incorporated.

UBC’s 100th year is turning into a year of memorial events, but it’s not the planned  superficial PR.

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).]

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 news.ubc.ca 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 …

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 …

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 …

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


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?

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