Tag Archives: UBC Faculty Association

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 1.22.59 PM

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.

UBC faculty, staff, and students protest Board of Governors meeting #UBCClean [UPDATED]


UBC faculty are not generally a rowdy bunch, but there were a couple of hundred out today protesting the Board of Governors meeting and demanding UBC management and Board accountability.

UBC faculty, staff and students were protesting the UBC Board of Governors Meeting held on campus at the R. H. Lee Alumni Centre, and demanding a clean up of the Board and university administration, in particular that:

  • the Board of Governors stops holding secret, undocumented meetings
  • the Board honours its duty to operate in a transparent and accountable fashion
  • an external review of its past practices takes place immediately.

For more background on the issues leading to this protest, see this letter from the Faculty Association of UBC, which details how the BoG has, among other things, held committee meetings that left no official record, and made decisions about personnel matters without formal assessments or performance reviews.

News coverage of protest:

The Tyee: UBC Faculty and Students Protest Board Handling of Gupta Departure

The Province:  ‘Secret’ board meetings prompt UBC protest

The Ubyssey: Protest disturbs Board of Governors meeting

CKNW: Protesters crash UBC board of governors meeting

Here are some photos and videos from today’s protest:

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image



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).]

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?