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.”