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.