Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ten months on the job

It’s been ten months since the start of my formal term on the UBC Board of Governors and nearly a year since the BoG elections. 

Colleagues ask me about my experience on the board, what is it like, is it a lot of work, have there been any surprises?  Having been involved in all matters of UBC & community tissues for over two decades I have been both surprised, disappointed, pleased and impressed in equal parts. 

I am impressed by my fellow faculty colleagues on the board - together we bring a lot of differnt levels of expertise.   I am disappointed by the ways in which the board doesn't really take advantage of our collective capacity.   It would seem that we could offer more than the few minutes they entertain us every couple of months in committee or board meetings. We are told our comments are relevant, the evidence, however appears lacking.

I am pleased to get to know my fellow student and staff governors.  It is a bit of a cliche, but having the chance to meet with folks outside of the typical ways in which a faculty member might meet with students or staff is rewarding in and of itself.  I've enjoyed informal coffee meetings as well as our interactions in the formal meetings. 

While my public statement on appointed governors is clear in the abstract (I think our new government should replace all the former Liberal government appointees), I have gotten to know several of them directly and find them individually amazing people.  While we may well disagree over fundamental aspects of what is the best way to achieve the core mission of our institution we do share a general desire to ensure that UBC's best interests are met.  

I have been surprised by what I might call an institutional culture of reluctance.  I am surprised as the University places so much stake on innovation, doing new things, being creatively disruptive, etc.  Yet, in the operation of the Board there is a great reluctance to move beyond their comfort zones of control and authority. A reluctance to actually enable potentially creative disruption how they run things at the board. A reluctance to extend the circle of governance to include those who do not agree with them.  

I've seen the same sort of cultural forms engaged in reserach at the interface between First Nations and government agencies and their corporate allies. Governments and/or corporations will say they are interested in dialogue, with shared governance, with transparency, but in practice they are reluctant to relinquish a modicum of control.  The cost of these lost opportunities is high - it's a shame that at the highest level of our university the same culture of reluctance can be found.

Two issues related issues of these past months have stood out for me: continued concerns with academic freedom and the place of athletics in the prioritization of UBC-V building projects.  

As most of us will be aware the President’s office is currently following up on matters related to freedom of expression (which is related, but not the same as, academic freedom). 

The current focus on the Stadium Neighbhood Planning process – which involves a rebuild of the Thunderbird Stadium and a development of a new residential community- creates an opportunity to open up the discussion of how best to fund the university’s core mission.  

In my capacity of governor I very much wish to hear from my colleagues on the above matters, but more importantly on matters that you consider important and would like to see some action on.   

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any ideas, matters, or concerns that you think would benefit from consideration by the Board of Governors or senior administrators.  As an elected faculty governor I would be pleased to hear from you and to bring forward questions on matters before the Board.  As a governor I have opportunities to pose questions and request information on university matters (as long as they are not part of a closed meeting agenda).

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