Friday, September 13, 2019

New Role on Board of Governors

At any other time this kind of news would be something good, something to feel pleased about.

As of today I am the chair of the Learning and Research Committee of UBC's Board of Governors. I acknowledge the trust placed in me to take on this role. I acknowledge fellow faculty who have held this role before me. I also acknowledge the unhappy path that leads to my new found position.

Several times since being elected I made requests to be a member of specific committees (former Chair S. Belkin consistently ignored those requests). Since becoming chair Michael Korenberg has worked to accommodate diverse, and even highly critical, perspectives. He has shown a willingness to trust the democratic process and work with those who have been elected and with whom he may  fundamentally disagree with.  I admire the frankness of a person who will say what they plan to do and then do it as they said they would without subterfuge. That has been my experience working with the chair of UBC's Board of Governors.

I did not ask to be chair at any point in the past or present; in fact I have several times suggested other colleagues as appropriate candidates for chairing committees. Given my disagreement with certain categories of practices (like tuition fees, privatizing the university functions, or the amount of attention given to commoditizing research in consort with industry partners) it has not seemed appropriate to me to accept a position as a chair of a standing committee of the Board.

Then came Thursday.

I felt compelled to interject on a point of procedure during the Learning and Research Committee. A dialogue had developed between the chair of the committee and the chair of the board. This was an interaction that excluded the majority of the committee. People seemed to be uncomfortable with the dynamic. Yet the interaction continued with no apparent end.  I finally interjected on a point of order. This was a conversation best held, I thought (and still do) between the two men off stage.  To continue the dialogue would necessitate, I suggested, a vote of non-confidence in the committee chair.  After a brief moment the committee chair proceeded to the next agenda item.

I wasn't able to stay to the end of that meeting - I had a prior engagement for my father's 90th birthday. I learned later via social media that the chair of the learning and research committee had tended their resignation effective immediately at the close of the meeting. I felt saddened when I learned the news. Irrespective of any disagreements over process, tactics, or perspective, there is nothing to celebrate when a person feels their only recourse is to resign.   I have been in that place myself and, at least my sense of it is, it is not a happy place to be.

So today I take up the mantle of chair of the learning and research committee of UBC's Board of Governors.

I will be working with my UBC-O colleague John Klironomos (co-chair of the committee) to effect the business of the board through this committee.  I look forward to continuing the work that has been set in play and to build on it by ensuring that we hear the voices of faculty and staff representatives in our discussions.  There is already a strong consultative role established with student stakeholders - we have more work to do to ensure that faculty, beyond the management circle, are heard in the workings of board decision making processes.

I also make a procedural commitment to this committee and our public.  I intend that all committee members will have an equal and fair opportunity to be heard. Many of us teach in ways that enables all voices to participate; it is the least I can do to ensure the same consideration is applied in this committee.  In practical terms this will mean that each person will have an opportunity to speak before any other committee member speaks twice.  In addition, in the event that there is any issue in which I hold a strong view of, I will cede the chair to Dr. Klironomos at that moment so there is no confusion as to the proper role of the chair in the proceedings.

I look forward to continuing to work on behalf of my colleagues. You have placed your trust in me. I have an obligation to carry out this role to the best of my ability.

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