Wednesday, December 2, 2015

You Don't Look Indian

Detail of Painting by Greg Deal.
During the recent American Anthropological Association meetings in Denver (Nov. 18-23, 2015) I took some time to visit the Denver Art Museum.  Leaving aside the touristic complements - it is a great museum- I was struck by the Native American art section, tucked discretely to the edges of the main complex. It is striking in its breadth and force of the works on display.

What caught my eye was the active installation by Greg Deal. He wasn't there during my visit but the studio and works underway touched on troubled issues of identity and who is the arbiter of our Indigenous identities.  This was an installation that gave me serious pause for thought.

All throughout my personal and professional life matters of my own social identity have lurked and disrupted. What child wants to be confronted with racialized slurs on the playground? More disruptive are the stories in families hidden in the background. It is as though they wait, like a malevolent being, for that moment to derange our sense of well being. Most people are familiar with these sorts of stories. Yet there is something about racialzied stories that intersect with and become entangled in the struggles of working class lives that feel heavy, they adhere to our own lives even as those childhood memories fade. One can close our eyes to these injuries but they adhere nonetheless.

It wasn't until I was in my late teens that my mother told my why it had been important to my father that I participate in Scouts. She told me this after some friends and I challenged what we felt was a racially discriminatory plan by our Scout Group's advisory committee.

My father sat at the dinner table saying nothing as my mother said "When your father was a boy his father took him up to the church to sign up for Cub Scouts. But within a few minutes of arriving your grandfather stormed out and took your father home saying that was  waste of time."

"Didn't want any half breeds," my father said.

"That's why we wanted you join Scouts," my mother said.

That was it. That was the story. There is so much more.  If only racial violence and discrimination was about joining or not joining Boy Scouts. As I grow older I have been able to review in my mind the many stories told to me, the things I have witnessed, the half finished accounts, the fragments of thought and see in them the violence of self doubt and self hatred engendered by the settler. Writing about this past, especially as it intersects with my present, is one way to excise the ghosts of racism and violence.

Several decades later I was sitting down with an uncle of mine. We were working together on a project concerning aboriginal rights and title in the Prince Rupert area. In preparation for a series of interviews with elders and hereditary leaders we were discussing the various questions we wanted to ask, how to best phrase them in our Indigenous language, and what issues best left to another time.

"Can you think of any special places, areas of town important to know about?"

"Well, my father always told us that when we got off the boat here at Cow Bay, to walk straight up town along 3rd. He told us about places not to go, where we need to keep away from. Some parts of town you had to stay away from. It wasn't safe."

From a conversation about traditional territory we shifted seamlessly to a story about navigating a dangerous settler landscape and keeping safe.

Racism is more than discrimination, it's a transposition of the landscape that we have sprung from. Racism is about challenging our right to name our places and to name ourselves. In the same manner that a new grid of markers and names have been laid overtop of our Laxyuup (land/home), so too settlers are constantly trying to lay new names and markers upon our very bodies.  "You don't look Indian. . ."

Greg Deal's art confronts playfully, sarcastically, pointedly, ironically, the hypocrisies and violence of the settler and their society.  Coming across his installation in Denver was a breath of fresh air that took me away from the injuries of race and class and allowed me to laugh with him at this common pain we feel as Indigenous people today.
NWC Diorama Denver Art Museum

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Navigating Collegial Waters

"It's the same everywhere," a trusted mentor said to me many years ago. We were chatting over coffee after spending time listening to conference papers.  I'd been complaining about the run of the mill academic politics.  In his trade mark fashion my mentor cut right to the chase, "Go into your class room, close the door, and get on with your teaching. Write, research, and ignore the politics.  It doesn't get any better then where you are."

I wasn't really willing to believe him, our department was moving toward a reasonably polite, but stressed, parting of the ways between Sociology and Anthropology. The grass looked greener at a lot of different places.  I listened to him anyway, hunkered down, did my academic work, found my research feet, and looking back at it I realize it was one of the best pieces of academic advice anyone ever gave me.

My mentor's advice took me through tenure and finally to promotion as a full professor.

His was hard advice to follow. It is really easy to get sucked into the meaningless webs of gossip, intrigue, accusation, and posturing that constitutes the white noise of departmental politics. There are times that I wished I had paid more attention to his advice as I found my self strangely isolated or pulled into maelstroms of conflict. There are other times when I thought I was following his advice but then got pulled up short when colleagues took a different view and acted in ways that seemed to suggest I was very much involved. Yet throughout all of this I have tended to effect what I considered to be disinterested engagement with departmental politics.  Doing so in fact has allowed me the space to focus on things that matter to me as an Indigenous scholar.

I  do a good deal of work on behalf of and within my home community. I also do work with and for other First Nations and Native American Tribes. This is exciting work.  It is also work that can be intensely conflictual. University politics still flame out on who can represent. But in community conflicts are just as likely to be between neighbouring communities as between communities and non-Indigenous people. The stakes are not based in academic prestige. No, in these conflicts real dollars, lives, and community wellbeing are on the table. These are not situations for the faint of heart. They are, however, important and have real implications for Indigenous people and also for our wider society.

It seems that the contemporary university has a difficult time coming to terms with these critical issues and concerns. Within the university we tend to focus on saying rather than doing. I confess to finding it hard to get excited about word smithing 40 word vision statements when many Indigenous people simply want dignity in one's life.  I want the university to count back home even as I want it to be a real place for debate, discussion, and learning. Yet, I am at times disappointed by the way things turn out.

I've written about these kinds of situations. In one paper, Standing on the Shore with Sabaan, I decry the continued use of our Indigenous communities as sources of data for outsiders to experiment with. In a second paper I discuss the history of collaborative research and point to ways in which anthropology and anthropologists still have a long way to come. In a more recent paper I appropriate anthropological techniques and subsume them fully within my own Indigenous perspective calling attention to the blindness of non-Indigenous colleagues. These are works that can offend and for that I do not apologize: why is the colonized always asked to apologize to the colonizer?

True, there is something about an assertive and vindicationist Indigenous perspective that challenges fellow travelers and opponents alike. It compels me to develop a more interested engagement in university politics.   Universities need to be safe places for Indigenous peoples, not battle grounds. But, as our African American cousins are showing us throughout the US universities are not safe spaces for the colonized.  We must first engage in order to make over the university.

Almost 20 years after receiving my mentors advice I realize that part of his directive to close the door on departmental politics was so that I could focus on what it really means to be an Indigenous scholar navigating the foreign waters of the western academy. Let me assure you it can be done: I've managed so far.  It can be a rough ride; like  a boat running with a following sea with the threat that we might swamp with each roll.  But with the armour of position, and such little power it might accord me, I shall now turn my gaze onto the mundane word of academic politics so that those who come after me might never experience the same obstacles and injuries my generation has.

UBC Legal Counsel Responds to Moral Rights Question

[This is in response to my concerns about UBC's Moral Rights Waiver in publication agreements. See previous post here.]

Oct 26, 2015
From: Lai, Hubert

Dear Charles:

Thank you for your e-mail of September 7, 2015 expressing your concerns with regards to a moral rights clause contained in the BC Studies Manuscript Publishing Agreement.

As you know, UBC has provided you with an exemption from the moral rights clause, and I understand that BC Studies published your work in its October 30 issue.  In addition to providing this exemption, I would like to also respond to your request for an explanation as to why UBC includes a moral rights clause in its Manuscript Publishing Agreement template.

Moral rights are category of rights granted under the Canadian Copyright Act (RSC 1985, c. C-42).  Section 14.1 of the Copyright Act defines these rights (and the effect of a waiver) as follows:
Moral rights
        14.1 (1) The author of a work has, subject to section 28.2, the right to the integrity of the work and, in connection with an act mentioned in section 3, the right, where reasonable in the circumstances, to be associated with the work as its author by name or under a pseudonym and the right to remain anonymous.
No assignment of moral rights
        (2) Moral rights may not be assigned but may be waived in whole or in part.
No waiver by assignment
        (3) An assignment of copyright in a work does not by that act alone constitute a waiver of any moral rights.
Effect of waiver
        (4) Where a waiver of any moral right is made in favour of an owner or a licensee of copyright, it may be invoked by any person authorized by the owner or licensee to use the work, unless there is an indication to the contrary in the waiver.
Moral rights protect the "integrity" or an author's work and the right "where reasonable in the circumstances" to be, or not be, associated with the work.  Under Section 28 of the Copyright Act an author may bring a claim for infringement of his or her moral rights. "Moral rights", in addition to copyright, are therefore a part of the bundle of intellectual property rights dealt with under the Canadian Copyright Act.

Publication of an author's work requires that UBC comply with the Copyright Act.  In particular, to publish a work, it is necessary for UBC's journals to obtain either an assignment or license of an author's copyright in the work.  However Section 14 of the Copyright Act makes it clear that such an assignment or license alone does not confer a right or license with regards to an author's moral rights.
 Without an express waiver of such moral rights, UBC's journals could therefore face the risk of possible legal claims for infringement of an author's moral rights.  For example, such claims could be alleged to arise from a journal's:

  • ordinary editing of the author's (or authors') manuscript for publication;                     
  • reformatting of the published work for publication in other media; or
  • digesting or prĂ©cising of the work for an index or for archival purposes.

Furthermore, it is also possible that an author's moral rights could be asserted to inhibit a journal's ability to publish a formal correction or retraction in connection with a previously published work. This could be of particular concern in cases where the published work has more than one author.

To avoid such disputes UBC’s journals include a waiver of moral rights in their publishing agreement templates. In doing so, UBC is not unusual, as many other publishers include similar wording in their publishing agreements. To balance these legal concerns against the concerns which you have raised, we have also maintained a policy of considering, on a case by case basis, exemptions from the moral rights clause.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that UBC and its journals are strongly committed to ensuring that authors are fully credited for their publications.  UBC recognizes that authorship is very important to the academic reputation of individuals who submit their work for publication and that correctly attributing authorship is essential to the scholarly process.  The inclusion of a moral rights clause in the publishing agreement template was never intended to detract from these principles. To affirm this we are reviewing the language in the publishing agreement template with a view to clarifying that the moral rights clause is not intended to diminish an author's right to be associated with their published work.

I hope that this letter provides you with a better understanding of the reasons for including the moral rights wording in UBC's journal publishing agreement.


Hubert Lai, Q.C.
University Counsel
The University of British Columbia
6328 Memorial Road
Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z2
Tel: (604) 822-0687
Fax: (604) 822-8731

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reflections on Blogging, Academia, and Diversity


by  Fiona McQuarrie

When Jennifer Berdahl was appointed to a faculty position in the University of British Columbia (UBC) Sauder School of Business, a UBC press release quoted her as saying that she intended to “create change by having a dialogue directly with people in organizations”. But during this past week, a dialogue between Berdahl and UBC has turned into a situation that has gotten a lot of attention. ... [Read rest of McQuarrie's post here]

McQuarrie continues to provide a background to the story.  She then uses this story to argue that organizations that promote diversity must do more than make pronouncements of their desire.  In so doing McQuarrie discusses her perception of UBC as a "go along to get along" working culture. That might be the case, though personally I doubt colleagues would classify me as a go along to get along sort of colleague, for example.  The Berdahl situation does tell us something, but I think it has more to say about where power sits on campus then it does about diversity programming.

I think that one other factor is at play. Berdahl is in the business school - that is the perceived center of support of corporatism.  She is also a star of the business school, funded by a self-appointed gender white knight. If someone like myself in the faculty of arts said the same thing (several of us in fact did) no one would notice. In fact, no one did notice any of us outside of the business school.

This raises an interesting aspect of what I call (after Bill Readings' The University in Ruins) the University of Excellence (I say more about it in a paper here): for the most part what we as faculty say is irrelevant and ignored by those in power.  All that seems to counts is that we say something, it is published somewhere, and we get research dollars to fund it. We have great periodic moments of accountability were we get to score our output, but never truly evaluate the content (that was done in peer review). Take a look, for example, through all of the "critical studies" publications emanating from the faculty of arts and critical education, it's almost a litany of nasty churlish criticisms (in peer reviewed venues) of the corporate neo-liberal university etc. I count my own work amongst this crowd. The point is that most of what we say is ignored.  If I were to publish a devastating critique of our university in a top their journal I might even get accolades from the president's office (proving they don't really read anything we write).  Maybe we are fortunate that only our fellow choir members read our blogs and published papers.

Berdahl, who cuts against the grain, can't be ignored by the powers that be.  She has bitten the proverbial hand that feeds. I fully expect that the fact finding mission will most likely end up criticizing her, denying any infringement of her academic freedom, and exonerating Montalbano (though he will likely get a backroom scolding but we will never know for sure). The reason is that the threat that Berdahl presents is a direct result of her structural location in the heart of a business school.  Ideally those who put her there would like to hear about how to get more women like Indira S or Martha P into power, how to enhance female participation in business.  That is, they want info on improving the neo-liberal corporate regime. They do not want to hear about speculations on real local power issues in which plays of masculinity (irrespective of whether the player is male or female or other) loom large. Nor do they want to hear analyses that question the basis of neo-liberal corporatism. [As an aside, the much touted female leadership at UBC doesn't prove women are equal in the power structure or that masculinity doesn't matter, in fact it's rather a Margaret Thatcher style of masculinity that is being played out here, not a third (or even second) wave feminism].

UBC is by and large a place where one can pretty much research on what ever one wants (unless you are in a business school).  However, issues that cut close to the real power at UBC or criticisms  that come from within the favoured fellows category will get slapped down hard unless we reach out to the wider public to make the case for the linkage between open research, informed unrestricted expression, and civic democracy.

Berdahl is refreshing to those of us engaged in the long battle against the corporate theft of the public good.  She has become an unlikely hero, perhaps in ways that even she might not want. She reminds us that even within the core of the beast of capitalism there are potential allies in the struggle for social justice.

Moral Rights - who cares? We all should!

1.2 The Author hereby also expressly waives, to the fullest extent permitted by law, all moral rights which the Author may now or in the future have, with respect to the Work.

I recently discovered that the above clause is standard for BC Studies (BCS), a regional journal of venerable reputation published by UBC.  The publishing agreement is one of the most restrictive that I have encountered over 25 years of academic publishing.  As an academic I am accustomed to signing away most economic rights attached to my writing. While there are academics who cash in big on their writing most of us benefit most through the simple act of publication: it’s what we are paid to do by our universities; it’s what we need to do to get tenure and to be promoted.  So, we often forego any potential economic rights in our work as the benefit is found through secure employment.

Moral rights, however, are a horse of a different colour.

Moral rights speak to an author’s ability to maintain the integrity of their work. Moral rights ensure proper attribution.  By extension moral rights are fundamental for the maintenance of one’s intellectual property rights.  If we sign away our moral rights we give up all capacity to control our work.  Giving up our moral rights is tantamount to giving up our identity as a researcher and author. So why does UBC legal counsel want us to do this?

As an author I think carefully about the way I piece a work together.  I won’t claim perfection, but I will claim forethought and consideration.  An academic’s reputation rides upon the way in which one expresses oneself. If I lose my ability to control the integrity, the ordering and shape of my work, then I have lost a critical aspect of control over the way in which my academic reputation is shaped. 

If one loses the ability to control the integrity of one’s work there is always the option of taking our name off the piece; to give up attribution.  But if one signs away moral rights one gives up the ability to take our name off a work. 

Consider the following.  Eager to get a work published we have thrown caution to the wind and have signed away our moral rights.  Then, one chances upon said work, recoils in horror with the hatchet job of a reedit. We call up the editor and demand to have our work returned to its original state or at least to take our name off the the work.  But whoops, by signing away moral rights the author has also signed away their rights to control attribution.  There is no legal remedy!

According to BCS the publishing agreement they use was designed by UBC Legal Counsel. Allegedly, the university’s lawyers were quite insistent that authors sign away their moral rights.  The clause (posted above) is quite encompassing and pretty well ensures that there is not a shred of moral rights left in the hands of an author. Why?  It doesn’t really make any sense to me.  All it looks like is an attempt to undermine by intellectual property rights of potential authors.  When I asked for an explanation for the inclusion of the clause there did not appear to be any clear understanding of whyUBC legal counsel wanted it.

I really have no clear understanding of why UBC might want to take the moral rights from authors in publications that they control?  Perhaps it allows UBC to modify, alter, and repackage the work of authors without the hassle of having to secure said author’s permission. Thus UBC could keep our name on a work while fundamentally altering the integrity of the piece, perhaps to use in online course, without ever having to let us know. But really, why would they want to?  Is there really an money to be made by cutting up an obscure academic paper on abalone, forestry, of fisheries? It seems misplaced and of no real consequence for anyone but the author. nI wasn't involved in setting up the agreement and I'm no lawyer, so I have no idea what they really were thinking: but clearly, they weren't thinking about protecting authors' rights.

This clause is of no small consequence.  

Recently, upon receiving the happy news that one of my papers had been accepted by BCS my momentary joy was dashed to pieces by the subsequent receipt of the publishing agreement. I was very surprised.  I was also disappointed.  Despite all the work that had been involved in getting to the state of acceptance I was in no mind to give away moral rights. Some scholars may feel unable to protest the moral rights clause for fear of losing BCS’ offer of publication. Others may well be so pleased with the opportunity that they didn’t stop to consider the implications of the clause. I protested. In fact I also approached other journals to see whether they too had moral rights clauses in the event UBC was intransigent.  

UBC legal eventually waived the clause for me (thank you BCS staff for asking UBC on my behalf). They provided no explanation for granting the exemption nor did they explain why they put the clause into the agreement in the first place. It is not reasonable to merely grant one author who complains an exemption.  UBC needs to remove the clause completely from all past and future publishing agreements.

The right thing to do is to delete the clause on moral rights. 

"It's up to you," UBC legal, do the right thing.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

After Gupta Resigns BoG Chair Tells Prof to Cool It: Resign Mr Montalbano.

One would  have thought that the Gupta Resignation Story (GRS) would die a quiet death over the late summer vacation season.  But no, the story keeps getting more like a Lewis Carol story with each passing Friday afternoon.

Here's a recap: late one August Friday afternoon (Aug. 7) the Chair of the UBC Board of Governors and the University Chancellor send out a joint broadcast announcement under the heading: Leadership Transition.  We are told, in a set of sentence so short and spare that Papa Hemingway himself could have written them, that Gupta had resigned and Martha Piper was being drafted out of retirement to steer the UBC ship for the next year.  GRS MRK I.

Over the weekend a few faculty and student souls pen a handful of speculative words on the matter. The well known Prof Goussoub, the Sauder School of Business star Jennifer Berdahl, the UBC Insiders, a former Ubyssey hack (affectionately used), and Ed faculty member Wayne Ross, all offered their thoughts.  I even managed to have an opinion as well.

The following Monday the president of UBC's faculty association pens a very polite and quiet letter.

The GRS seemed to stall out here.  But then, again on a Friday afternoon the Chair of the BoG writes a letter to the faculty association that can be politely summed up as saying: don't worry, be happy. Meanwhile, the Chair of the Board (apparently without having to convene a special meeting of the Board, which is what he advised the UBCFA would be required to respond to the FA's letter) had called Professor Berdahl directly to complain about her blog post and simultaneously tell her that he had spoken with her Dean.

Those outside of the academic world might not get the severity of a high placed administrative figure telling a faculty member that they have spoken with one's dean.  Given the relative power dynamics there is no way to understand that communication except as a veiled threat (at best).

The GRS MRK II has now begun.

From a perplexing story about a sudden resignation we now have what looks like a botched attempt to silence a senior star faculty member.  The story is no longer simply a resignation.  This is a full fledged attempt by a government appointee to try to minimize faculty academic freedom, to silence dissent, and to do so using some of the most hamfisted old fashion macho techniques imaginable.

If there was any doubt before, that doubt has evapourated.  Mr. Montalbano you must resign and appologize for infringing upon the academic freedom of UBC Faculty.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

UBC FA calls for immediate resignation of Montalbano

19 August 2015

Dear Colleagues:

The events at UBC following the unexplained resignation of Professor Arvind Gupta as President have been exceptional. Fallout from the resignation created the unprecedented situation in which the Chair of the Board of Governors is alleged to have compromised the academic freedom of a UBC faculty member. Academic administrators are also implicated in allegations surrounding this incident.
Since these allegations came to our attention last Wednesday, we have been working hard to maintain the integrity of the normal labour relations processes we use at UBC to resolve our grievances. While these processes have been working well as we investigate the roles that various academic administrators have played in this case, established procedures have been compromised as they pertain to the alleged actions of the Chair.

The concerns leading to this conclusion focus on the fact that the University itself has sidestepped standard protocols for handling grievances. More specifically, the Chair of the Board of Governors, the Board’s chief spokesperson, gave public, personal testimony related to the case in a University media release. We were shocked that this happened in a formal University media release posted on a University website. (This media release seems to have been removed from late Tuesday evening. We have a downloaded copy.) Mr. Montalbano has confused personal interests with the University’s interests.

As a result of this communication, we had earlier in the day decided to call for Mr. Montalbano to step aside during an investigation of the allegations against him.

By late afternoon, we became aware Mr. Montalbano was giving a series of interviews on radio and television, entirely in contradiction to the August 17th press release signed by Provost pro tem Anji Redish and Interim President Martha Piper in which it was affirmed that: “it would entirely be inappropriate to comment further on the allegations until this process has been concluded.”
And, yet, Mr. Montalbano was doing precisely this in his capacity as Chair of UBC’s Board of Governors.

Finding a sound and proper process inside the University or with the Board for investigation of the concerns around Mr. Montalbano’s behaviours no longer seemed a viable option.

While the University has publicly said that a grievance involving Mr. Montalbano could be managed under our usual collective agreement processes, this no longer seemed possible. Mr. Montalbano is a government appointee, not a University employee, so establishing and implementing a fair process to investigate the Chair of the Board of Governors given that Chair’s dominating presence in and apparent mobilization of the entire system in his own interest seemed challenging, to say the least.
Indeed, even though we had initiated our usual informal processes with the University in a way that made it clear that there were serious allegations against Mr. Montalbano, Mr. Montalbano did not step aside as Chair pending the conclusion of a full investigation.

We have lost confidence that there can be an internal investigation process uninfluenced by Mr. Montalbano, either within our usual labour relations processes or through a Board-driven process.
Consequently, we are calling for Mr. Montalbano’s immediate resignation as Chair of the Board of Governors. He has shown an inability to allow proper procedures to proceed and has used his office as Chair of the Board to engage personally and publicly with the issues under investigation. This behaviour is ill judged and threatens the integrity of ongoing processes.

We did not take this decision to request Mr. Montalbano’s resignation lightly. His handling of Professor Gupta’s resignation and his mismanagement of subsequent events are now compounded by breaches of standard protocols, and lead us to believe that his resignation will be in the best interests of the University and the public.

Please read our letter carefully.

Mark Mac Lean

To read full text of UBFA letter to UBC (click here)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Time for Democratic Reform of the UBC BoG

UBC's vision statement opens with the following: "The University is independent and cherishes and defends free inquiry and scholarly responsibility." It's a laudable statement.  Yet the late Friday announcement of former UBC President Arvind Gupta's resignation is a text book example of something that speaks to a lack of independence, an absence of free inquiry, and very little demonstrated responsibility.

While I have no direct knowledge of the situation I can say that the method by which this resignation was announced speaks more the corporate world of mergers and acquisitions then it does to an institution of free inquiry.  The sub-text of the terse late Friday afternoon announcement reads more like the double-speak of Orwell's 1984 then it does of free and informed inquiry and scholarly responsibility.  Instead we are presented with a fait accompli resignation with no indications of the reasons or justifications.

The UBC Board of Governors is comprised, for the most part, of government appointees.  Unlike under previous provincial governments, all of the current government appointees come from a particular segment of the business world.  They are, I am sure, fine family people, strong advocates of community engagement, and very likely quite personable folk if one were to know them personally.  However, they are all cut from the same cloth.  It is reasonable that the government who pays the bulk of the bill set the policy direction of public institutions.  It is patently unreasonable for a government to so game the system that there is no significant diversity of opinion represented on the Board outside of elected faculty, staff, or student governors.  

We need a rethink on how governors to BC's public post-secondary institutions are appointed.  The governors are to act in the best interests of the university.  However, when the majority of governors come from a narrow band of society their idea of what may constitute the best interests of the university will very likely not be in accord with the actual interests of the university nor with the wider public of the province.  Governors should come from a wide sector of BC society.  They should include regular working people, community activists, union members, doctors, lawyers, and, yes, some business people.  They should not be restricted to major contributors of only one political party, nor should they represent only one small minority segment of society.  Unfortunately, that is the the way our provincial government has structured our university board. Perhaps that has played some role in the unceremonious end of the presidential term of Avrind Gupta.  

I have no special knowledge of the situation.  I have, over the course of the past year had the occasion, through being a member of the University Neighbours Association, to have brief interactions with him and with other members of the senior management team.  I was impressed with my meeting with then President Gupta. I felt that maybe, under his leadership, we might actually see the emergence of something more like responsible government amongst the residential ghetto managed by UBC's Planning department.  Whereas previous upper management types (several of whom who have since departed) responded to my call for greater democratic authority in the UNA area with a blunt "it won't happen," Gupta entertained the idea and ruminated that perhaps change was needed.  What a refreshing change from the constant refusals to relinquish any crumb of democratic authority to residents.

I also heard through various campus networks that Gupta took far more interest in financial matters than any previous university president (and he could understand the numbers).  This was said to cause certain sectors of the university management some degree of discomfort.  Who is to say what the reality was.  One would need to be on the inside and I suspect that there are at least as many stories plus one as there were people involved.

Gupta had the potential to do something here at UBC.  I am sad that his attempt has been prematurely ended. Unlike either Toope or Pipper, Gupta was working his way through faculty meeting with departments to actually speak with us face-to-face.  Gupta articulated an interest in faculty governance, in refocussing the university on what our core mission is supposed to be: research and educating.  Was that threatening to the bloated and constantly growing managerial class at UBC?  Perhaps we will never know.  All that we can say at this time is that the silence of the Board, upper management, and Professor Gupta himself opens the door to much idle speculation and the overproduction of unfounded explanations of what may have really happened. The Board has a social responsibility to open up, be transparent, and honest.  At the moment they risk losing the trust of faculty, staff, students, and the wider public as they play corporate games behind closed doors.

Letter from Mark McLean, UBCFA President on Gupta resignation.

Dear Colleagues;

Shortly before 1pm on Friday, I received a phone call from the University to inform me that Professor Arvind Gupta would resign as President of UBC effective at 1 p.m. that afternoon, and that a public announcement would be made at 1:15 p.m. This news came as a complete surprise to me, and I have spent the weekend trying to make sense of it.

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.

I also have questions about the future leadership of the University. 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?

All of my concerns and questions aside, I am committed to working with Professors Redish and Piper under the same model of trusty and openness with which I was able to operate with President Gupta.  I have every expectation they will want to continue the positive relationship that has developed between the Administration and the Faculty Association over the past year.

I invite you to send me your responses to the President’s resignation.  Please email me at


Mark Mac Lean

President of the UBC Faculty Association.