Friday, May 11, 2018

Faculty Governor By-election

Voting will begin for the position of a replacement faculty governor on May 14, 2018. UBC-V faculty will have an opportunity to select one person out of the field of however many candidates there might be.

UBC is at a critical juncture.  We are emerging from a series of governance related missteps: the forced resignation of President Gupta, mishandling of a series of sexual harassment allegations (including the public dismissal of a faculty member), an egregious interference into a business faculty's academic freedom, and the list seems to go on.  We seem to have reached a turning point with important advances, such as President Ono's apology for UBC's complicity in residential schools and the Board of Governor's setting up a special committee to advance aboriginal engagement on campus. We also see potential improvements in the internal governance of the board emerging. As with all critical junctures the path forward is not preordained.

Faculty governors can play a significant role in shaping the outcomes of such moments. During the Gupta affair our faculty colleagues on the board appeared to sit back and do nothing but go along. Becuase they operated under a veil of silence we may never know if they acted appropriately, but clearly it is widely believed they, and the entire inner circle of the board, did not.

We are at a juncture point where we need a colleague widely know for the courage of their convictions. We need a senior colleague who has local, national, and international standing to be elected to the board. We need a colleague who understands, through their own experience of life, that respecting diversity means action in practice, not tokenism.  We need a colleague who has done more than simply grow their own 'leadership' skills in dean's offices or highly ranked labs. We need a genuine, hard working, experienced colleague filled with compassion and motivated by passion.

I know there is at least one such person who has put their name forward. I will be voting for them and I urge that colleagues do the same.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Departure of Dr. Chaudhry from the #UBCBoG

The seat for an elected Vancouver faculty member on the Board of Governors that is currently held by Ayesha Chaudhry will become vacant as of June 30th, 2018.  To fill this vacancy, this is a by-election for one (1) eligible faculty member from the Vancouver campus to serve for the remainder of the 2017-2020 triennium, for a term beginning July 1, 2018 and ending on February 29, 2020.
It is a disappointment to lose a scholar and public intellectual like Ayesha Chaudhry from the Board of Governors at UBC.   Over the year that I have served with her on the Board at UBC I have found my own understanding of our world broadened. Not a scholar of religious studies or classics I will confess to having been unfamiliar with her research prior to meeting her on the board. What a revelation, what a privilege to get to learn from her through her engagements on the board and through exploring her publications.  When the university publicity people talk about excellence at UBC it is colleagues like Dr. Chaudhry who give actual meaning to that often empty term.

In the discussion of her departure colleagues have speculated as to why she has left.


Dr. Chaudry has pointed to her coming sabbatical as the primary reason for her departure. 

Sabbaticals of course are not guaranteed. At the start of the year we might apply and not know the answer for some time.  Sabbaticals take time and require our focus on research.  When we are provided with a sabbatical opportunity it's important we follow up on it and make it productive. In addition, when we take leave for a sabbatical we are supposed to step aside from our various administrative commitments.

We do get a hint at Dr. Chaudhry's impression of work on the board when she tells The Ubyssey that
she plans to apply what she has learned at the Board to her research “turn[ing] historically white, heteronormative institutions into spaces that celebrate diversity in a way that is equitable and sustainable, without tokenizing and exploiting the very people who are brought in to diversify a space.”
I can't help but wonder had the Board acted differently might Dr. Chaudhry still be a governor.

Dr. Jennifer Berdahl posted a comment to her blog earlier today that compares her own experience on the Presidential Search Committee to what she imagines Chaudhry experienced on the Board.  At the heart is the way the current power structures create a sense of futility for those of us intersted in effecting real, meaningful change.  As Berdahl notes: "If Prof. Chaudhry’s experience was anything like mine on the UBC Presidential Search Committee, she quickly realized how alienating it is to be one of only three faculty members on a 21-person corporate-controlled Board. It was likely even worse for Chaudhry as a woman of colour. Combining this with the Board's shenanigans that are designed to manipulate information and process to achieve desired decisions and minimize academic voices, a sense of helpless futility can set in."

It is too soon to say whether anything will change with the new board chair, but the experience over the past year (from my perspective) has been fatiguing.  For Dr. Chaudhry and myself, who were elected on a platform of change it takes a lot of emotional energy to engage in an environment where what we say is either ignored,  dismissed, greeted with an obfuscational answer, or we are explicitly told we are wrong.

Reviewing governance, tinkering with procedures and rules of order for meetings, are all well and fine.  However, if the cultural practices of racialized discourse, gendered power, and inherent valourization of wealth over intellect remain unchallenged no amount of tinkering with rules and procedures will create a better outcome. If the board is serious about engaging honestly with all faculty (not just those that agree with them) and sincerely wants to create the capacity for real diversity, then they will need to address the cultural practices that fundamentally exclude and demean those of us who are not members of the corporate elite.




Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Privatization, Student Housing, and UBC

UBC quietly announced last Friday the 13th, through a report to the UBC Board of Governors, that they are planning on privatizing aspects of student housing through the creation of Government Business Enterprise. The Ubyssey reports out UBC's argument for privatization.

This new GBE would be joining UBC Properties Trust (UBC's real estate developer) and IMANT (UBC's investment management firm). Both of which operate outside of the view of public scrutiny. Even though they are whole owned by UBC, normal freedom of information requests (FOIPPA): that is, they have no obligation to divulge information in the same way that UBC must comply. Another aspect is that as a GBE these entities are able to raise private debt that does not show up on the government ledger and in ways that UBC itself is legislatively constrained from doing.

As presented to the Board on Friday the 13th last Andrew Parr, UBC's head of housing, described how the management plan would essentially be restricted to managing the physical assets - specific details of the presentation, which was presented in open session and shared with governors, cannot be located on the UBC Board of Governor's web page as of today's date. Nor is there mention that any info on this project will be brought to the April 19th Board meeting as posted on the web page.