Opposition MLAs query why Arvind Gupta resigned as UBC president

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      Opposition MLAs say UBC should offer a better explanation for the recent resignation of president Arvind Gupta.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, NDP advanced-education critic Kathy Corrigan said it probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to conduct the search that resulted in Gupta’s hiring. Now, just over a year into his five-year term, the university’s board of governors must launch another expensive process. On August 7, the university announced that former president Martha Piper would be taking over Gupta’s job on an interim basis until June 30, 2016.

      “We deserve more answers than this, and they’re being very close-mouthed about it,” Corrigan claimed. “And that’s fine if you’re a private company. This isn’t a private company. This is a public institution.”

      The provincial government appoints 11 of the UBC board’s 21 members. Others include the chancellor and the acting president, as well as three directors elected by faculty members, three directors elected by students, and two directors elected by staff.

      Corrigan said that the lack of information makes it difficult to determine whether Gupta’s departure was a result of mismanagement.

      Green party MLA Andrew Weaver says he finds it “really odd” that Gupta will reportedly receive a full year’s salary after resigning.

      “The speculation that would arise is there’s some kind of mutual agreement to resign,” Weaver told the Straight by phone. “But it’s just speculation.”

      Weaver, a University of Victoria professor for 20 years, said there’s been a “very disturbing trend in universities as of late towards this top-down form of governance”. He characterized it as a “Big Brother knows best” mentality.

      In addition, Weaver claimed that over the past two-and-a-half years, the B.C. government has moved toward “much more of an ideological approach to governance which is very much something you see coming out of the [Stephen] Harper mould”.

      “We need to know why he [Gupta] resigned,” Weaver said.

      Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson was unavailable for an interview. He previously issued a statement saying that the UBC president’s resignation “is a matter between the Board of Governors and their employee”.

      UBC’s financial statements for this year anticipate a $9-million drop in the provincial operating grant for the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. That follows a $16-million cut in the previous year’s provincial operating grant.

      Meanwhile, the UBC Faculty Association says it’s lost confidence in the provincially appointed board chair, John Montalbano, former CEO of RBC Global Asset Management. On August 17, the faculty association issued a statement criticizing Montalbano for allegedly communicating with a dean “over internal operational and academic issues”. The statement also alleged that Montalbano showed an “apparent lack of understanding of the principles of academic freedom”.

      The previous day, UBC Sauder School of Business professor Jennifer Berdahl published a blog post stating that Montalbano had phoned her to complain about a previous blog post expressing support for Gupta. Berdahl’s earlier blog post had suggested that Gupta may have lost a “masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men”.

      “He [Montalbano] said my post would cause others to question my academic credibility,” Berdahl stated in her August 16 post. “He repeatedly mentioned having conversations with my Dean about it. He also repeatedly brought up RBC, which funds my outreach activities, to say that people there were on ‘damage control’ should the media pick up on this.”

      Montalbano was unavailable for comment. In an August 14 letter to the faculty association, he called Gupta’s resignation a “regrettable development for the university”.

      “We understand that everyone would like a fuller explanation but must be respectful that the confidentiality arrangements were mutually entered into and both parties are bound by that arrangement,” Montalbano wrote.

      Following the faculty association’s criticism of Montalbano, Piper and UBC provost pro tem Angela Redish issued a statement underscoring the seriousness of “allegations of breaches of academic freedom in a recent blog post”.

      “Suppression of this freedom, whether by the institutions of the state, the officers of the University or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary function,” they noted.

      Later in the statement, Piper and Redish added: “The facts will be gathered and all parties will be heard before reaching any conclusion. We welcome this process and it would be entirely inappropriate to comment further on the allegations until this process has been concluded.”

      The faculty association has maintained that the board of governors’ communications with the university should be routed through the office of the president or acting president. Its August 17 statement also questioned why there’s been minimal explanation for Gupta’s departure.

      “The resignation of Professor Gupta as President of UBC is not simply a ‘personnel matter’ for the University, as the Board claims,” the faculty association stated. “Rather, there is a high expectation of complete transparency and accountability around the resignation of a President of a public institution as significant and vital as UBC. This expectation has not been met.”

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      8 Comments

      UBC Professor

      Aug 19, 2015 at 3:13pm

      Montalbano made the following comment about Gupta's "resignation" to the Globe and Mail which may be worth remembering:

      “I am very fond of saying that even the greatest institutions are never dependent on one person,” he said. “I don’t believe we will miss a beat.”

      How is this "won't miss a bit" playing now? And what does it say about his management prowess?

      Ishtambul

      Aug 19, 2015 at 6:33pm

      Wonder if Montalbano's company, RBC Asset Management, manages the UBC pension fund? So many potential conflicts of interest.

      Why does Moneybags Montalbano get to make these decisions

      Aug 20, 2015 at 9:20am

      So glad our elected official's are FINALLY paying attention to what happened at UBC.

      We need to also start taking about these drastic cuts to post secondary education.

      And finally why does Moneybags Montalbano get to make these decisions? His only achievement is his ability to manage other people's money.

      He does not have the education or the qualifications to make a decisions about the efficacy of the University president of a research institution like UBC.

      OR is big money starting to rule UBC?

      pulpo ensutinta

      Aug 20, 2015 at 11:09am

      Another tentacle from cons posing as libs and controlling all aspects of the socio-economic aspects of society.
      This is all very sinister and reeks of heavy handed corporate and political intrigue.

      My UBC

      Aug 20, 2015 at 1:50pm

      And now we have concrete examples of the “masculinity contest” from Nassif Ghasub http://nghoussoub.com/2015/08/20/the-cataclysmic-effect-of-masculinity-c...

      “President Gupta asked me last January to draw on my 6-year experience as a UBC Governor, and tell him whether it was normal that the Chair suddenly orders the President (his subordinate), to prepare the CVs of all the staff in his office because he was coming to check them next morning at dawn.”

      A President of a University preparing staff CV’s as less than 24 hour notice for the Chair? Why? This sounds like a classical show of who is the boss to me. And yes, I doubt JM would indulge in such a show with another “white male” (but that may be me).

      Let's take action - and write directly to our MLA's & UBC

      Aug 20, 2015 at 9:39pm

      The comments section are just bursting with people sharing their frustration about the situation at hand but we've all forgotten how this works.

      nothing will change until we email our MLAs and the university directly and let it be known that we want transparency and Gupta reinstated. Is it not evident by now that he did not leave because he wanted to? But that he was forced out? And has been gagged by the confidentiality clause?

      We talk about the unfairness of it all, but as we all know, talk is cheap. Let's get writing. It will take the same amount of time as commenting on this article or the posts but it will actually make a difference.

      Students: email the AMS president@ams.ubc.ca
      Alumni: email the alumni association - Executive Director - Jeff.todd@ubc.ca
      Residents: email your MLA

      The student leadership is supporting Montalbano

      Aug 21, 2015 at 7:04am

      Instead of reading between the lines and figuring out that Gupta was pushed out and demanding answers or even reinstatement like their American counterparts did in similar situations the leadership at the student society are following meekly along.

      Wow! Amazing what one can accomplish over the summer when no one is around and very few are listening.

      Glad I graduated at a time when students took a stand on things and would demand answers and seek change.

      Good grief

      Aug 23, 2015 at 11:35am

      Hardly a masculinity contest, since Martha Piper is tapped to fill the seat for almost a year in Gupta's wake.
      Did anyone think maybe there is a criminal investigation underway and nobody is allowed to say anything at this point? Who knows what really happened? And why does the speculation instantly savage Montalbano? That's horrific.