Graduate Student Society sends open letter recommending reforms to UBC's board of governors

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      Today (September 3), the Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver issued this open letter in regards to UBC's board of governors.

      Re: Policies and Practices of the UBC Board of Governors

      Dear Alice Laberge,

      I send this open letter to the UBC Board of Governors on behalf of the Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver (GSS), representing more than 10,000 UBC graduate students. It is the mandate of the GSS to advocate for, promote, and protect the academic, social, intellectual, cultural and recreational interests of its members.

      The GSS recognizes the Board’s important role as one half of UBC’s bicameral governance structure and the work it undertakes to ensure that the institution maintains its position as a globally significant research university. The GSS also recognizes that the Board regularly deals with sensitive matters for which discretion and confidentiality is required. Furthermore, the GSS recognizes the Board’s stated commitment to the principle of accountability to the students, faculty and staff of the University and to the public which is served by the University.

      However, when examining the Board’s recent actions in conjunction with its longer-term practices, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile this stated commitment to accountability with those actions and practices. Graduate students have indicated particular concern about a lack of transparency regarding the functioning and decision-making practices of the Board.

      It has come to the attention of the media that the Board has held meetings outside of its regular meeting schedule, not just without informing the UBC community and the public of those meetings but, even more concerning, the Board Secretary publicly denying its occurrence.

      The Chancellor and Board Chair were invited to attend GSS Council and to engage directly with graduate students. They both declined to attend, now and in the foreseeable future. Overall communication by the Board to the GSS has been limited to 1 phone call and 1 letter in a span of at least 3 years.

      Earlier this year, the Board considered a resolution to restrict photography and recordings at meetings. Questioning such recordings, which are a useful practice for ensuring accuracy and proper documentation, also demonstrates a lack of commitment to overall transparency.

      Both the Board and the Acting UBC President recently announced being fully confident in the Board Chair after serious allegations had been made against him. The GSS is concerned about this rush to support the Board Chair before an investigation or fact-finding process had been concluded or even commenced. Graduate students feel a Board supporting the UBC value of integrity should suspend all judgement until all facts are available.

      The GSS has concluded that the practices of the UBC Board of Governors are not sufficiently transparent to ensure that UBC's values – integrity, public interest, mutual respect and equity – are maintained.

      The GSS is committed to building an open, respectful, and constructive relationship with the Board of Governors. Student representatives elected to the Board have a fiduciary duty to UBC. Recognizing this fact, the GSS seeks to work with the Board to create more opportunities for engagement for the graduate student body and regular communication and interaction with the Graduate Student Society to establish a fuller student representation at the Board.

      In an attempt to provide constructive feedback on how the Board can achieve alignment with the aforementioned values of the university, the GSS asks the Board to consider the attached list of recommendations of reforms (see below) to increase the level of transparency. The GSS believes that adoption of these recommendations will re-establish the UBC community's trust in the Board by demonstrating a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability.

      The GSS would welcome the opportunity to present the recommendations to the Board on its next regularly scheduled meeting on September 29 and address any questions of the Board regarding those recommendations.

      Sincerely, Tobias Friedel

      President, Graduate Student Society

      Email: president@gss.ubc.ca

      The Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver (GSS) is an independent student society that advocates for over 10,000 graduate students at UBC Vancouver to the administration of UBC and all government levels to enhance graduate student experience. The GSS was incorporated under the Society Act of BC in 1982.

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      2 Comments

      Come on GSS - how can you move forward?

      Sep 3, 2015 at 8:08pm

      Without reconciling the past?

      Good job on the path you've laid out for the future.

      But how about demanding that the past be reconciled?

      With school about to resume why not call a meeting of GSS members and ask them what they think about having their president tossed aside?

      Let's ask the diverse students who must have been proud to have an accomplished role model at the helm of the University.

      Let's ask the disruptors what they think?

      Let's ask the researchers and future academics what they think?

      Why not join those that are asking for greater transparency NOW? And for reinstatement of Dr. Gupta.

      Or like the others do you have too much on the line to do so?

      has the UBC culture silienced student dissenters too?

      Stefan Mochnacki

      Sep 5, 2015 at 11:53am

      The proposals by the GSS look pretty reasonable to me, though with three student representatives on the BoG, the student voice is already well represented. Perhaps there should be more effort put into ensuring that there is always a graduate student among them, and perhaps GSS leaders should try harder to establish personal relationships with members of the Board and Senate (I can assure you that the Chancellor does not bite!). A few e-mails and phone messages here and there are not enough. Perhaps GSS leadership should quietly organize an annual reception for the BoG and Senate, with a visitor or personality who might make it attractive for such busy people to attend? As for the departure of Dr. Gupta, if Dr. Gupta maintains silence, then it would best be to leave things alone. Unfortunately, sometimes top academic appointments do not work out, and if the details were fully aired, the reputations of all would suffer. Similar situations have occurred elsewhere in Canada in recent years, especially when an administrator was appointed from outside the mainstream within a University, or even from outside Canada. Some appointees will succeed brilliantly, others not so well, as in any complex institution. Perhaps more than anywhere, running a University is akin to herding cats, and the demands on leadership are immense. I can only wish UBC the very best, speaking as a UBC alumnus and as a former president of the GSS's predecessor, the GSA.