BY RATTAN MALL
RIGHT from the beginning, the whole thing looked fishy, indeed, bizarre.
When a press statement by the UBC’s Board of Governors on August 7 announced that university president Arvind Gupta had resigned to return to the pursuit of his academic career, it seemed odd.
Was it some family matter?
Was it a scandal that they all wanted to hush up?
Some more outspoken guys in the South Asian community wondered why brown guys couldn’t hold down a good job!
WHAT added fuel to the fire – after the August 10 email to faculty members by UBC Faculty Association President Mark MacLean demanding to know the real reasons behind Gupta’s stepping down – was a blog by Sauder School of Business Prof. Jennifer Berdahl on August 10.
She wrote: “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.”
She added: “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. I had the pleasure of speaking with him on this topic to UBC alumni in Calgary and Toronto, and it was clear that he is convinced of the need to bring and keep all forms of talent into the Canadian workplace, no matter its size, style, or packaging.
“I also had the pleasure of serving on an executive search committee he chaired. In leading that committee he sought and listened to everyone’s opinions, from students through deans. He expressed uncertainty when he was uncertain and he sought expertise from experts. He encouraged the less powerful to speak first and the more powerful to speak last. He did not share his own leanings and thoughts until it was time to make a decision, so as not to encourage others to “fall in line.” In other words, he exhibited all the traits of a humble leader: one who listens to arguments and weighs their logic and information, instead of displaying and rewarding bravado as a proxy for competence.”
BERDAHL was allegedly pressured to shut up by John Montalbano, Chair of UBC’s board of governors and administrators at the school. In her August 16 blog she noted: “I was recruited to the University of British Columbia last year with a mandate to help organizations advance gender and diversity in leadership. I interpreted this to also mean UBC, which is lacking in gender and diversity in its leadership. For example, at its Vancouver campus, 11 of the 12 deans are white and 10 are men.”
She then detailed how Montalbano and others allegedly tried to pressure her to stop expressing her views on this topic.
NOW UBC’s acting president, Martha Piper, says the school is investigating claims that Berdahl was intimidated over her blog post.
So let’s wait and see what happens because this controversy is far from over!
ON Tuesday, in an interview to Vancouver Sun Montalbano claimed that he contacted Berdahl “to further understand” her concerns and that he did not threaten her funding or intend to impinge on her academic freedom.
But Montalbano refused to provide any further explanation about Gupta’s stepping down, noting that the board of governors and Gupta have signed non-disclosure agreements.
So we will probably never learn the TRUTH behind the resignation in an institution that should be a leader in being transparent because of the very convenient non-disclosure agreements.
Pretty ironical, eh!
Or, should we say, HYPOCRITICAL?
And why did Gupta want to hide the REAL FACTS?
Mark MacLean’s August 10 email
UBC Faculty Association President Mark MacLean in an August 10 email titled “Professor Gupta’s Resignation as President of UBC” to UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan faculty members noted: “This was a sudden and immediate resignation, and I am skeptical that the reason for it is simply that Professor Gupta wishes to return to the life of a Professor of Computer Science. We of course, will not hear directly from Professor Gupta since such resignations typically come with a non-disclosure agreement.
“The Board of Governors must explain what transpired to end Professor Gupta’s Presidency after only one year. What caused this leadership crisis?
“Over the past year, I had conversations with Professor Gupta about his desire for UBC to thrive as a place where faculty are supported and valued unconditionally. He truly viewed us as his colleagues. Contrary to some of the public speculation since his resignation, he 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.
“In support of this plan, President Gupta’s budget decisions were 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.
“Does Professor Gupta’s resignation mean the Board no longer supports realigning the University’s resources to better support the research and teaching missions?
“Professor Gupta saw faculty as the heart of the University and collegial governance as a fundamental principle upon which the best universities operate. Will the Board of Governors continue to use these principles as the basis of its relationship with the faculty?
“I believe Professor Gupta’s resignation represents a serious loss to UBC. It certainly represents a failure point in the governance of the University. We need to understand this failure and the Board must recognize that we cannot move on until we do.”
John Montalbano’s letter of August 14
JOHN Montalbano, Chair of the Board of Governors, responded to MacLean’s concerns in a letter on August 14, stating: “Your communication to the members of the Faculty Association states that Professor Gupta’s resignation “represents a failure point in the governance of the University.” As the body mandated with overseeing the welfare of the university, the Board acts in accordance with principles and protocols set out in the University Act and UBC policies. At no time in its discussions with Professor Gupta did the Board exceed its authority or act in any way prejudicial to the university’s best interests. We want to assure you that Dr. Gupta’s resignation does not represent a failure of governance. The Board acted responsibly and with every consideration for a fair outcome in having to deal with the significant and difficult issue of the resignation of Professor Gupta.
“The Board of Governors comprises 21 individuals representing the breadth of the university community, including elected faculty, students, staff, and provincial government appointees who are appointed in consultation with the Governance Committee of the Board. Many of these members are UBC alumni. The Board also represents a diversity of gender and cultural identity. The diverse composition of the board engenders a wide range of views and opinions, thereby resulting in a healthy, strong and respectful governance model. The UBC Board of Governors strives to build a decision making process based on consensus and as such the full Board was engaged with the decision to accept Professor Gupta’s resignation.”
Mark MacLean’s letter of August 17:
We are disappointed that the Board’s response provides no new information. In essence, it asks the university community — and the public at large — to take on faith, the fact that the Board has acted responsibly and in the public interest. While the Board should normally have the trust and confidence of the university community, events surrounding the resignation of Professor Gupta make this increasingly difficult.
The resignation of Professor Gupta as President of UBC is not simply a “personnel matter” for the University, as the Board claims. Rather, there is a high expectation of complete transparency and accountability around the resignation of a President of a public institution as significant and vital as UBC.
This expectation has not been met. The absence of an informed explanation since the August 7th resignation has led to ill-informed speculation taking the place of information. In our opinion, this situation makes any non-disclosure provision in Professor Gupta’s exit agreement contrary to the public interest and contrary to the best practices expected of a major public institution.
Furthermore, the handling of Professor Gupta’s resignation and its aftermath have exposed serious weaknesses in the governance of the university, due to the apparent failure to manage significant and perceived high-risk personal conflicts of interest involving Mr. Montalbano, the Chair of the Board. The concerns raised in this regard compound those already expressed about the lack of transparency in the processes surrounding the President’s resignation. In our opinion, these conflicts of interest should not have existed in the first place and must be remedied immediately.
Specifically, the Chair of the Board also sits on a Faculty Advisory Council, and we are advised has been in communication with a Dean over internal operational and academic issues. This arrangement
circumvents the formal organizational bicameral structure of the university, which would require that communication between the Board and the university be routed through the President (or acting President). The role of the Board is to set general policy and to manage, administer, and control the property, revenue, business, and affairs of the University, and not to become involved in academic governance.
The Chair of the Board should not be able to meddle directly in internal academic affairs. Yet, disregard for this organizational structure as well as interference in academic affairs, is precisely what is alleged to have happened this past week in relation to the comments made by a faculty member concerning the President’s resignation by the Chair of Board.
We are also concerned — in reference to the same faculty member — about alleged violations of academic freedom and of the university’s respectful environment statement committed by a number of individuals, including the Chair of the Board of Governors. While these allegations are still under investigation, there are sufficient facts known to lead us to question how well those involved, including the Chair of the Board himself, understand the principle of academic freedom, and whether they understand their obligations under UBC’s public commitment to providing a respectful workplace environment. Each of these principles is a fundamental tenet of a university.
Mr Montalbano’s apparent lack of understanding of the principles of academic freedom, and the questionable judgement he is alleged to have exhibited in interfering with internal operations and with university employees, have caused the Faculty Association Executive Committee to lose confidence in Mr. Montalbano as the Chair of the Board of Governors.
Given the conflicts of interest, and the missteps that that have come to light this week, we believe it is even more imperative to have the full story behind the resignation of Professor Gupta as President of UBC. Full disclosure is the only way to restore trust in the governance of the University of British Columbia.