Patronage at #UBC and the dangers of gated management #ubc100 #ubcnews #bced #highered

by Stephen Petrina on May 7, 2016

If there is anything learned at the University of British Columbia since the announcement of President Gupta’s resignation on 7 August 2015, it is that patronage is the institution’s greatest threat to reversing its spiraling downfall.

Of course we hear a lot these days about the gated communities in Vancouver and Kelowna where the 1% enjoy their luxuries without annoying distractions and questions from the 99%. Chip Wilson’s gated and walled $64m waterfront home makes the old Casa Mia on Marine Drive look like a quaint tiny house. And if trends have their way at UBC, Chip, valued at $2.2b, will soon run the Board of Governors (i.e., Lululemon U), following Stuart Belkin, valued at a comparatively mere $900m with a modest hobby farm in Southlands.

In the midst of its administrative and legitimacy crises, on 25 November Belkin was appointed Chair of UBC’s BoG. In 1938, Stuart’s father, Morris, led students on a protest against the BoG’s proposal to increase fees by $25. At his first meeting as Chair on 15 February 2016, Stuart presided over the approval of huge tuition increases across the University, no questions asked. Morris, the consummate contributor to student media, saved The Ubyssey by buying the printing house, which eventually became College Printers and core to Belkin’s packaging corporation. Stuart has an aversion to the media.

Following Morris’s death in 1987, the family donated to UBC $1m+ and by 1992 established itself as an art patron with a $1.5m endowment as ground was broken for the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery on campus (opened 17 June 1995). Stuart commands UBC’s BoG in the midst of sieges on privilege and patronage.

Philanthropic patronage is common at UBC but it’s the managerial form that is perhaps much more entrenched and dangerous at this point.

In Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers, Jackall explains that patronage reduces to “alliances that give one ‘clout’”

by the systematic collection of information damaging to others and particularly about deals struck and favors won in order to argue more effectively the propriety and legitimacy of one’s own claims; and, on the part of those in power, by pervasive secrecy, called confidentiality, that attempts to cordon off the knowledge of deals already made lest the demands on the system escalate unduly. (pp. 197-198)

Drawn from frontier tactics of circling the wagons, the practice of protecting managers at all cost for favours and perks, or patronage, has generated a crisis at UBC. Indicative of this crisis of patronage was the deans’ endorsement of the BoG and Central senior managers on 9 February 2016.

Rarely at UBC is administrative patronage, characterized by this process of encircling and turning inward, exposed in such a raw, visible form, as if under siege by faculty, staff, and students.

The deans, along with vice, assistant, and associate appointees, owe their capital, in large, to a system of patronage that keeps gates and walls to protect privilege. Gated management, suppressing and distrusting shared governance, relies extensively on patronage.

Acting as if through Gupta’s resignation ‘to the victors go the spoils’, the deans are gambling that circling the wagons around the BoG and Central, however much it exposes patronage, delivers payoffs come reappointment time and invariable sieges on gates and gatekeepers within their own Faculties.

Patronage delivers payoffs at UBC, as Central looks the other way when accountability is due. For example, Central has been unwilling to find either fact or fault with administrators perennially running up deficits, suppressing academic freedom, mismanaging academic portfolios, playing favouritism, breaching privacy, biasing student votes, bloating admin ranks and offices, etc.

The fact that no one—not a single administrator– has been held accountable, canned, denied reappointment, or moved back to faculty ranks, etc. in the midst of the University’s most serious administrative crisis in fifty years is increasingly suspicious.

Yet this nagging suspicion of the BoG and Central, “perceptions of pervasive mediocrity” (Jackall, p. 197), and faculty members’ current No Confidence vote call the entire system of gated management and patronage at UBC into question.