Questioning the independence of UBC’s Equity office

by E Wayne Ross on January 28, 2013

This open letter by UBC Professor Jennifer Chan, published today by the Ubyssey, appeals for changes to UBC’s consultations concerning its Equity Office. The Jennifer Chan v UBC and others [Beth Haverkamp, David Farrar, Jon Shapiro, Rob Tierney] racial discrimination case was heard by the BC Supreme Court on November 13, 2012. The case involves the David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education selection process in Fall 2009. See the Ubyssey’s feature article for background to the case.

Letter: Equity office revamp needs an independent perspective

The Ubyssey, January 28, 2013 — In December 2012, UBC called for a consultation to “seek input and advice from the UBC community on what organizational changes are needed to build inclusion into the structure of the university so inclusion at all levels and in all forms becomes the norm.”

One of the two co-chairs of the consultation, Ms. Nitya Iyer, who is a practicing lawyer and a former faculty in the UBC Faculty of Law, had been involved in at least two UBC equity complaint investigations. Former Associate Vice-President Equity, Tom Patch, who retired at the end of December 2012, had hired Ms. Iyer as an external investigator for these cases, both of which she dismissed.

Patch and Iyer were former colleagues at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. By all appearances, this posed conflict of interest for the investigations. Now, asking Ms. Iyer to co-chair a university-wide consultation on organizational structures that she has been involved in also raises issues of impartiality and vested interest.

She is asked, among other things, to review the UBC Equity Office for which she worked as an investigator. Further, former and/or current equity complainants may be unwilling to come forward in the consultation due to the fact that the person who headed and dismissed their investigation is now co-chairing that process.

Similarly, Dr. Gurdeep Prahar, who is the current acting head of the UBC Equity Office, was asked by Tom Patch to be a member of an investigative panel in at least one equity complaint proceeding.

For the consultation process to be credible and seen as independent and fair, a new co-chair who has never worked with/for UBC equity organizations is preferable. Otherwise, it risks being seen as compromised.

—Jennifer Chan
Associate Professor
Faculty of Education

Read More: The Ubyssey