Monday, November 28, 2016

Commitment to Transparency and Engagement

Over the last decade or so one UBC faculty Governor has set the gold standard of faculty engagement and transparency in governance.  Nassif Ghoussoub, writing in his blog Piece of Mind, made his views known, encouraged discussion and engaged with us as peers in the governance of UBC.  I find much to emulate in Nassif's example.

Our Governors have a responsibility to act in the best interests of our public university.  One important way to do this is to make oneself available to our colleagues, to listen to diverse and divergent voices, and to be as inclusive in our processes as possible.  I already maintain several social media platforms that will allow me to share information (within the legal bounds permitted to me). If elected I will use these platforms to share information and to receive feedback.

As a Governor one has an opportunity to put questions to the senior administrators who are making the operational decisions regarding UBC. This gives one an opportunity to bring a range of concerns, ideas, and thoughts into the center of UBC's decision making process.  If elected I will bring your questions and ideas forward.

I pledge to act with openness. I pledge to place the voice of faculty firmly, clearly, and without apology, at the center of my service as a member of the board of governors at UBC.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Speaking notes: UBCFA-BoG Faculty Candidates Forum, Nov. 24, 2016

I acknowledge that we are on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam Nation.
            Over my years at UBC I have been actively involved in our community.  I have served several terms on the UBC Faculty Association Executive. From 2012 to 2016 I served as an elected resident director on the University Neighbourhoods Association Board, the erstwhile municipal council for non-student residents on campus.
            My academic research is focussed on resource dependent communities here in British Columbia and in Western Europe (Brittany and Ireland).  In British Columbia my work has been predominantly concerned with First Nations engagement in government to government negotiations.  For ten years I have been involved on negotiation teams and technical working groups with some of the most significant energy development projects on coastal BC. I bring a level of expertise and experience that spans academic and community issues that is not currently in evidence on our board of governors.
            I firmly believe, and consider there is evidence to support this belief, that our governing bodies require a diversity of perspectives to function fully, effectively, and democratically.  Currently our governors come from a narrow legal and/or business background.  Our faculty needs strong and diverse voices that will not be content to simply go with the flow.

            I honoured to have been able to have committed a significant portion of my adult working life to UBC. This university is an important part of BC. As a native BCer I know how important this place is to our province.  At the heart of what makes UBC strong is our faculty.  We, and our students who come to learn from us and work with us, are what makes UBC UBC. As your board representative it is my goal to ensure that faculty are not again silenced and sidelined by a narrow corporate vision.  We have much to offer and a responsibility to step forward and act.
The forum was video taped and archived by the UBC Faculty Association. My spoken comments are not identical to my prepared speaking notes, but the above covers the general sense of what I said. To see my actual comments click this link. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Statement for Board of Governors Faculty Election

It’s time for a change in how the BoG responds to faculty members. It is time for new faculty voices. Charles has served four terms as Member-at-Large on the Faculty Association of UBC (FAUBC), 2001-2007, 2012-2014. As a resident of the university area Charles has served two terms as elected Director of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA), 2012-2016. He has been a faculty member at UBC since 1996. While at UBC Charles’ research has focused on First Nations natural resource management, decolonization, and social justice and fairness in human relations. 

The University needs a Board that is accountable, transparent, values shared governance, and is responsive to faculty, staff, and students. This past year, we heard loud and clear why the Board needs a renewed commitment to accountability and shared governance.

Charles is recognized as a strong advocate for shared governance, transparency, and democratic process. As a past representative of faculty in the UBCFA and University residents in the UNA Charles consistently advocated for the expansion of democratic principles and effective community engagement. As an elected governor Charles will value community input and uphold best practices of accountability and governance.

Charles has a PhD in anthropology from the City University of New York and has published in anthropological, political economic, and Indigenous Studies journals. His most recent book is People of the Saltwater, a story of his home community Gitxaała, north coast BC.    

Further details about Charles can be found on his faculty web page and his blog.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'Climate of Fear' or 'Fear of Commitment'?

There are lot of strong statements these days about a climate of fear at UBC or the categorical dismissal of any such thing. Truth often lies somewhere in between.

Over the course of my own life I have often heard people say they feel they can't do this or that for fear of some kind of social sanction being brought down upon them.  From school to work to family life the are formal and informal mechanisms at play to shape social behaviours and attitudes. My disciplinary guild, anthropology, has studied these kinds of social pressures in kin-ordered societies - cultures within which there are no formal state institutions.

Generations of anthropologists have found that indeed human societies (within or outside of states) create rules and mechanisms for enforcing them.  Each society creates particular ways to try and constrain those who deviate from the accepted norms.  From joking and teasing to outright coercion, humans work hard to ensure that group members toe the line.  Anthropologists studying non-state small-scale societies have realized for a long time that group formation and a sense of identity and belonging has been a critical aspect of human sociability cultural stability for millennia.

Pushing social norms is often seen as a threat to social stability. But it is also an important source of innovation and change. In fact, pushing norms and challenging sacred truths is a critical aspect of human resiliency and is part of what contributes to our success (so far) as a species.

So lets turn back to this "climate of fear" at UBC.  It seems to me that it is simultaneously true and false. It is true in the sense that there is much pressure to conform as a faculty member at UBC.  It is false in the sense that if one meets the technical requirements for tenure (grants, publications, teaching) allowances are given for norm pushing behaviours.

Conforming as a faculty member means to do one's work, not cause too much of a fuss, publish and get grants. Going along to get along is a general aspect of most human work environments and it's been my experience at UBC. That's not to say people don't appreciate dissenting voices, but rather that the prevailing work place culture is one that prefers people focus on a narrow technical range of activities that define the workplace.  This breeds a form of workplace conformity in which more junior people try to ascertain (not always correctly) who the power brokers are and then to curry favour.  Conformists, it would appear,  are more likely to be afraid that if they step outside the norms they will be punished.

Ironically so-called 'excellence' is partially measured by innovation - that is, norm breaking. And it is 'excellence' that brings tenure and promotion.

The false side of the "climate of fear" perspective is that the reality is as long as a faculty member does publish when and where it counts, does get grants, and does meet the standards of teaching one can  push norms on the political front - to be a dissident- and still get tenure and promotion.

While it may be true that there are academic administrators who might wish that faculty just shut up and focuss on research I think that most are more interested in finding ways to get us to publish more, get bigger grant's and keep our students happy.  I think that UBC would be an even more interesting, exciting, and engaging place if more people threw away their perception of fear and realized that in the University of Excellence we have a lot of freedom (as long as we publish) to engage in legal acts of political dissent.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Twitter, University Politics, and Critical Engagement

"Hey Menzies don't you have some boring lectures about fishing villages to get back too?" 
 (A Twitter Admirer)

It's not the first time my twitter path crossed threads with student advocates who take umbrage with my commentary.  On the eve of the Paris Terror Attacks last fall UBC's  AMS was engaged in a massive tweet out of Drake Tribute videos. Long before any of us knew what was taking place in Paris my stray comment on the sorry state of student politics had started a mini twitter storm that ended up with a satirical take down of me in the venerable Ubyssey.  World events overtook the AMS video, but not before my twitter feed had been spammed by hundreds of tweets explaining how wrong I was, or a massive nasty facebook dissection of my academic work (mostly ill-informed and ad hominem), or someone in a reditt page (ironically more supportive of my views) found the space to call me a d**k-h**d.

More recently my tweets supporting Nassif Goussoub's and Professor Jennifer Berhdal's perspectives on the sorry state of UBC governance generated some pushback from the author of the "boring lectures" tweet and from several other student luminaries.   

In the old days political critics and opponents may have stood facing each other at a debate, over a picket line, or may have exchanged barbs in the letters page of a local newspaper. Twitter is both a more immediate and intensely public forum of short (easily misunderstood) comment, dialogue, and snark.  The delight of twitter as a forum is it's immediacy.  But that's also it's downside.  In the moment of squinting at small type on a phone, trying clever abbreviations to fit more into the 144 char limit, or just getting in a timely response, a lot of sideways slippage in comprehension can occur. 

We shouldn't overlook the ephemeral aspect of twitter (even as it lasts apparently for ever in a databank somewhere).  The form is ephemeral, the comment's effects ideally fleeting, and the response proportionally ephemeral. This is part of the charm of twitter as a social space. 

The various twitter threads that have led me to this reflection all involve aspects of university politics. My interventions arise from my own history and experience of activism, though history is not well transmitted in the twittersphere. 

A while ago I reflected upon the possibilities for activism and the conditions of work within the contemporary university of excellence. I drew upon my experience as a student, and then as a faculty member, in North American universities of excellence (a la Bill Reading: The University in Ruins). Unlike the earlier university of 'culture' in which what one might say had a potential impact, the measure of success in the contemporary university of 'excellence' is more focused upon how much one might say (in print, in the 'right' journal). My paper, "Reflections on Work and Activism," presents three linked, but autonomous stories that offer counsel to an interested audience on the ways in which engaged progressive political action might intersect with the realities of everyday work and life in the contemporary university of excellence.  It is from (and against) these personal experiences of activism that I measure and consider the actions of other actors in our common political world.

I have always taken a dim view of the career resume padding set of politicos who find power in currying favour with the even more powerful.  One of my own early student political campaigns featured the campaign slogan, "Not another smiling bureaucrat" in the place of my own 'smiling' face. I didn't win, but that wasn't surprising given my campaign was a critique of careerists, fun-advocates, and service oriented peers who saw student government merely as a place to pad resumes, meet business/government/university leaders and generally have a great time doing it. Of the many things that may have changed about me over the past 35 plus years, that sense of intense disdain for the careerist is not one of them. 

So when it comes to twitter I will occasional express a critical opinion of political leaders and actors of all stripes and stations. So don't feel singled out. I am very equitable in who I critique. 

I also complement and endorse activists, like participants of Idle No More and the Occupy Movement, or the activists of the Quebec Student's Movement.  These young people are visionaries who are willing to take real risks to make a difference in our world; the kind of difference that does more than pave the way for personal advancement. 

At UBC we have also had generations of hard working, committed activists who have strived to make real differences.  Since I have been on faculty at UBC we have seen students organize the No to APEC protests (1997), an occupation of the president's office (2002), the 2003 TA Strike, support actions for public school teachers (2002, 2005, 2012), and a host of related political engagements focussed on transforming our world into a more socially just place.

Ultimately, what matters more than any 144 char tweet are the actions of many acting in solidarity to create a better world for all.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Visual Assault on the UBC Campus

For three days now I have been compelled to either alter my path or shift my gaze to avoid the “Abortion Awareness Project” (formally called Genocide Awareness Project) [news links] as I walked from my home to my office in the Anthropology & Sociology Building.

On the first day, Wednesday of this week, I had no warning or prior notice of what I would see or that I should expect anything disruptive. I found the entire display profoundly disturbing.  It is racist, it is violent, it is aggressive.  Yesterday and today I found the same group now installed on the mall in front of Koerner Library. 

I do not know whether or not the images that are on display were previewed by anyone in UBC’s administration prior to their being installed on the campus. I can not image that any reasonable person viewing the images would find them appropriate for public display without some kind of warning, shielding, or other indication of what an unsuspecting viewer might be confronted with.   Nor can I accept that any amount of cash payment would be worth allowing the display to be erected publicly.

To hide behind a veil of free speech allows UBC to exempt itself from dealing with the violence of the particular imagery.  These are deliberate images designed to horrify, shock, and to create unease and anxiety in the viewer.  It is fundamentally a form of assault. What has been permitted on campus for three days now is not about free speech; it’s a public display designed to assault.  It is fundamentally a form of harassment that makes me, colleagues I have spoken with, and students that I know feel threatened and violated in our work place.

Combatting Academic Imperialism: Making space for a Canadian Anthropology #CASCA16

Roundtable: Saturday, May 14, 2016 8:30-10:00

Co-organized: Charles Menzies & Max Forte.

The academic and cultural imperialism of the US, the UK, and France has a long history in Canadian and Quebecois post secondary institutions. The impact and implications vary according to region and type of post secondary institution. This roundtable is designed to create an inclusive pro-active dialogue for Canadian anthropologists to collaborate in combatting academic imperialism.  Many of us have noted the long-standing colonial mentality whereby Canadian doctorates are compared unfavourably with those from the Imperialist heartland. This colonial mentality intrudes into teaching and graduate instruction. This colonial mentality affects hiring practices and job opportunities. Then to further complicate matters we, as disciplinary practitioners, have in turn have participated in an internal colonization of Indigenous Knowledge and peoples. Drawing from Indigenous, Metis, and Progressive Settler perspectives we invite our colleagues and students to join with us in this roundtable on combatting academic imperialism.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Isolated Issues or Systemic Problem

It would seem that UBC's Deans consider the issue of governance an isolated issue related simply to a needed leadership transition.  But what they really take issue with is any thought they might be opposed to the investment in research. I will confess to having missed that 'big' issue with the forced resignation of Professor Gupta.  I thought the issue was how a small ad hoc gang of four appointed governors railroaded a man of integrity out of the presidency of UBC.  But then I do appreciate that I am looking up from the ground and the Deans are firmly located higher up the tower near the feet of Zeus.

The Dean of Arts, Gage Averill, replied to my disappointment in what I called an apparent failure of academic leadership with a stirring note articulating his support of academic freedom.  I would hope so and would feel somewhat more concerned if he had not.

What stands out to me though is a listing of issues he says we need to discuss: "issues that roil the community: divestment, sexual violence, response to the anti-gay flag burning this weekend, animal testing… things that universities often try to sweep aside, and this includes how well we achieve our high expectations for transparency, inclusion, democratic participation and good governance." These are important concerns that indeed need to be discussed.  When listed together in this fashion one might be forgiven for wondering if what we are looking at is not a listing of separate and discrete issues, but a more systemic problem.

The issues Dean Averill lists are facilitated by a culture of subterfuge and back-channel dealings. These are the types of issues that arise when management by secrecy has become the norm.  These are the types of issues that emerge in a management context where people feel (rightly or wrongly) threatened by administrative and academic leadership.  Secrecy at the top breeds secrecy throughout the system.  As long as we continue to see these matters as isolated issues and events we will never end the social-ecological violence that "roil the community."

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Deans' Gupta Letter and my reply to Dean of Arts

Dear Prof Averill,

It is a disappointment to receive this letter from the Deans of UBC that ignores the clear record of subterfuge practiced by the highest levels of governance at UBC.  It is evident to many of us that great effort appears to have been made to keep regular faculty and the general public in the dark regarding the secret ad hoc processes and back door channels used to depose former President Gupta.

I  know that I am not alone in expressing a lack of confidence in the highest levels of UBC’s administration.  It would appear that our lack of confidence may well need to extend to the academic leadership as well.

The “op-ed” ignores what now appears to be a culture of secrecy, a persistent pattern of subterfuge, and the perception of tainted governance processes.

With regret I find my self disappointed in  the Deans’ apparent lack academic leadership.


Charles R. Menzies, PhD
Director of the Ethnographic Film Unit at UBC
Chair: Anth Undergrad Studies Committee 
Co-Editor, Collaborative Anthropologies (U. Nebraska Press)
Department of Anthropology, UBC
6303 NW Marine Drive
Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1


Twitter @charlesmenzies

From: anth-sesfacstaf <ANTH-SESFACSTAF@LISTS.UBC.CA> on behalf of Anthropology Head's Office <Anth.Head@UBC.CA>
Reply-To: Anthropology Head's Office <Anth.Head@UBC.CA>
Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 at 8:09 PM
Subject: FW: for distribution - OpEd letter from the Deans...

From: Tom-Wing, Margaret
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2016 7:49 PM
To: Tom-Wing, Margaret
Subject: for distribution - OpEd letter from the Deans...

Feb 10/16   
To Arts Heads' Assistants & Administrators, AUS President, and Dean's Office (w/fyi copy to HD group):  
I write on behalf of Dean Gage Averill.  Please distribute the following message and attachment to faculty, staff, and student leaders in your units. Dean Averill has shared this with the Heads/Directors group. With thanks, - Margaret  

Begin forwarded message:

Feb 10, 2016 

Dear friends: 

A letter from UBC deans, including me, has been submitted to the Vancouver Sun for Thursday's edition as an op-ed.  I wanted you to see it first.  The op-ed piece clears up one issue of fact in recent media coverage of UBC, speaks to the importance of the search for a new President and Vice-Chancellor, supports UBC debate on issues of governance, and stresses our support for the work of the Chancellor, President Pro-Tem and Provost Pro-Tem. 

With all best wishes,


Gage Averill
Dean | Faculty of Arts | The University of British Columbia
Buchanan A240–1866 Main Mall | Vancouver, BC Canada V6T 1Z1
t: 604.822.3751 | f: 604.822.6096

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mr Montalbano Plays His Hand: May 24, 2015 meeting notes.

May 24, 2015

RE: Review of Meeting Held on May 18

The Executive Committee of The Board of Governors would like to thank you for your continued leadership of the University of British Columbia.
The purpose of the meeting held on May 18th was to provide you important feedback and advice on how to move forward in your leadership mandate. The Board of Governors is pleased with your evolving vision for the University and supportive of the many difficult personnel decisions made to date.
While changes in strategic vision and key personnel can be unsettling at any organization, it is especially so at an organizing such as UBC, which has had stable leadership and strategic vision for the past seven years. The Board has noted that your first year as leader of The University of British Columbia has been an unsettled one. Relationships with key stakeholder groups, notably your senior executive, the Faculty Deans and the Board of Governors are not at functional levels to allow you to move forward in a confident manner –unusual even for an organization undergoing strategic shifts in vision and key personnel.    
The Executive Committee of the Board has identified key aspects of your leadership style and management skills which require a “course correction” in order for you to lead the University effectively. To be very clear, we all wish you to succeed, as it is in the best interest of the University that you do.
The following are the key discussion points raised during our meeting. While many of the items may have been addressed and discussed, we would like to sit down with you after a period of reflection to plan steps toward a resolution and/or improvement:

1.    Creating an environment of trust
·      This is arguably the most critical issue of your tenure so far. Because there is a low level of trust among those that work most closely with you, morale is low. You are rarely seen to solicit or seek advice from those best positioned to support you. You are deemed too quick to engage in debate in a confrontational or dismissive manner, which is demoralising to a group of executives in fear of their employment security. Members of the Board of Governors have also experienced similar interactions in and out of formal settings. Engagement and positive reinforcement must be consistent and predictable and in a manner that is “Presidential”.
·       As the President of the University, people are looking to you to set the tone. By not seeking advice or being receptive to it, you are reinforcing a view that you trust no one’s opinions but your own. Moreover, you must refrain from thinking controversial thoughts out loud, especially when the facts are far from certain. Creating division among individuals whether within the Executive, the Board or the Deans must cease immediately. The role of the President is to bring people to together.
·      We are pleased that you are open to “360 Reviews” as this will allow for a safe environment for your employees to provide you with the information you will need to work more constructively with them in the future.

2.    Creating an environment of collegiality and collaboration    
·      The role of a leader is to build collegiality and collaboration across the organization. This is particularly crucial during a time of change. Ironically, the very people most fearful of change are the ones who would value contributing to it most. A leader must facilitate discussions that are “fact finding”. Such meetings encourage discussion and advancement of advice to the President, (absent of debate from him). Strategic vision and major changes in operational direction must be socialised with key stakeholders well in advance.
·      Following on the concerns with the Deans, we will look for your strategy on how to better engage and partner with the Deans on a go forward basis.

3.    Undertake a review of the President’s Office
·      We are deeply concerned that your office is not providing you with the information you need on a trusted and timely basis. The issue with the Dean’s in response to the Provost announcement was a catastrophic example that you are not either being informed in a timely manner or worse, the very people you are relying on are unable or currently not in a position to develop relationships of trust to provide you with the information you need prior to any major initiative.
·      This does not take away from your obligation to solicit your own information from the senior executive, the Deans, the Board etc.
·      We are also very concerned that your office is not only inexperienced and perhaps under resourced, but that certain members of your team do not reflect well on the tone that the office should wish to establish with stakeholders on and off campus.

4.      Communications
·      Communication of change and strategic vision has been poor. The Executive Committee of the Board has witnessed a degradation of quality in the communications from the President’s Office and Executive in the past number of months. Communication releases of key departures have inflamed concerns on campus and in the community. Specifically, while the communications are fact based, they are void of empathy, often not tied to University strategy and deemed to be hastily released without proper pre-consultation to prepare key stakeholders in advance.
·      Moreover, Board materials are often short on details and timeliness is an issue. This all suggests that professionals are “reacting” to events that should be within their proactive control.

5.    Developing your vision of UBC’s purpose, vision and strategic imperative
·      The Board of Governors strongly supports your “getting back to basics” approach to the operation of the University. That being said, with the passage of time the Board and other key stakeholders are now expecting a more tangible plan on how these initiatives will be undertaken and over what time horizon.
·      Your messaging has been very clear regarding your priorities but the “tactics” are not. Normally, a strategy is rolled out in its entirety, from grand vision to plans of execution. Unfortunately, you have mapped out a strategy prior to key stakeholders becoming deeply engaged. The result is that the articulated vision is deemed to be “yours” and not “theirs”. The President simply cannot enforce a vision on the University without the traditional forums of engagement. How will this engagement now take place? An operationalized strategic plan with clearly articulated tactics for the key components of the strategy and vision is requested.

6.    Board of Governors Meeting Agendas
·      First and foremost, the Board of Governors is a governance board. This means that the meetings must prioritise items critical in running the University as prescribed by the University Act.  In fulfilling its fiduciary duties, the Board must not be treated as a distraction or a nuisance. The Board’s mandate includes many, if not most, of the items discussed in this note today and had the Board been engaged more seriously earlier, many of these issues could have likely been prevented.
·      While agendas are developed by the Chair and the Standing Committee Chairs in close consultation with the Executive and the Board Secretariat, ultimately it is the responsibility of the President to ensure that sufficient time is allocated to formally discuss key strategic items. The President drives the agenda and where issues arise, the President is expected to work with the Board Chair to reconcile conflicts and challenges in the agenda.
·      We simply do not accept that the President has not been allocated proper consideration for Board discussions. We expect to see more proactive engagement by the President in shaping strategic discussions at the Board and Standing Committees and that these meetings are well resources with supporting documentation.

7.         Provost Search
·      Fairly or unfairly, how this search is conducted will be defining for you. We would like to see a formal plan from you on the steps to be taken to conduct a transparent and respectful process in search of UBC’s next Provost. We appreciate that the summer is not ideal to launch a search, but that should not detract from a formal review being undertaken to review the appropriate Provost model for UBC and with concrete steps taken thereafter with respect to the formal search process.

8.       Accepting Accountability
·      We found our discussion with you on May 18th constructive. We appreciate that you have come to understand that you have some key deficiencies in your leadership style that must be addressed. No doubt, it is difficult to reconcile how the very skills that made you a success at Mitacs are the very skills working against you as the President of one of Canada’s most important Universities.
·      As a leader of an organization, you are fully accountable for your actions and the actions of others who are reacting in response to your behaviours. To be completely transparent with you, we are still not certain that you fully appreciate the scope of your accountability. As President and leader, issues such as low employee morale on campus, the relationship challenges with your key stakeholders and the simmering external reputational risks developing as a result of these challenges, are fully yours to own.

 Arvind, we understand that this is a very difficult time for you. As members of the Board of Governors, we felt that this discussion was necessary, at this time, and in the best interest of the University. We convey once again, that we wish to see you succeed as President of UBC, as it is in everyone’s best interest to see you thrive in your role.
We ask that you formalize your thoughts on paper in response to these concerns. Moreover, we are keen to see a working paper or roadmap on a way forward, armed with this feedback.
We look forward to the outcome of your reflection and will certainly work with you in a trusted and constructive manner.


John Montalbano