The NDP critic for postsecondary education says she has "no doubt" Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson was "fully aware" of a conflict between some UBC board members and former president Arvind Gupta.
"It is inconceivable to me that the premier's office was not also alerted and aware of what was going on," Kathy Corrigan told the Straight by phone. "I think the provincial hands are working behind the scenes. So I think there is absolutely a provincial aspect to this."
The MLA for Burnaby-Deer Lake pointed out that Wilkinson has said that he regularly talks to board chairs and provincial appointees on boards. She also said that unredacted documents from UBC showed "a really poor relationship" between Gupta and the board. As well, she stated that the UBC board is dominated by provincial appointees.
"At the very least, there is questions about the independence and leadership of the university," Corrigan declared.
Last August, Wilkinson issued a statement saying Gupta's resignation was an issue between the UBC board and its employee.
Meanwhile, Corrigan said that an external review of the board of governors and its practices could be one way to enhance transparency and accountability. Her comment came after the UBC Faculty Association made this recommendation.
"I haven't thought about what the form [of the review] should take," she acknowledged.
Corrigan has previously pointed out in the legislature that Premier Christy Clark's former campaign manager in Vancouver-Point Grey was appointed to UBC's board of directors. Corrigan noted that failed B.C. Liberal candidates have also been appointed to boards.
"It seems to me that there are many, many political appointments, and it generally can put a chill on the activities of the board," she said. "I think it politicizes, unduly, the activities of a board."
The NDP's advanced education critic said that she didn't know enough about the specifics to comment on what led to Gupta leaving.
"Was it the firing of the provost? Was it the firing of senior administrators?" she asked. "Did that get the administrators really concerned? I just don't know the legitimacy of all that because I'm not there and I don't have enough knowledge about what goes on at UBC."
However, Corrigan was willing to comment on the cost of replacing Gupta. She predicted that the search will be about $500,000, including flying candidates to Vancouver.
In the meantime, she claimed that there is a vacuum of leadership at the province's largest academic institution.
"It takes a good year to really get a handle on the job, no matter how much past experience you've had, then a search of a year before that," Corrigan stated. "Now, we have Martha Piper in there as a placeholder for a year....Essentially, you could end up with literally three years of lack of leadership at the institution. I'm concerned about that."