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."

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