UBC Faculty Association demands immediate resignation of UBC board chair John Montalbano

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      Two days ago, the UBC Faculty Association made it known that it had lost confidence in UBC board of governors chair John Montalbano.

      Now, the association is calling for Montalbano to resign immediately in the wake of the mysterious resignation of Arvind Gupta as UBC president.

      Here's the letter released today by the association:

      August 19, 2015

      Dear Colleagues:

      The events at UBC following the unexplained resignation of Professor Arvind Gupta as President have been exceptional. Fallout from the resignation created the unprecedented situation in which the Chair of the Board of Governors is alleged to have compromised the academic freedom of a UBC faculty member. Academic administrators are also implicated in allegations surrounding this incident.

      Since these allegations came to our attention last Wednesday, we have been working hard to maintain the integrity of the normal labour relations processes we use at UBC to resolve our grievances. While these processes have been working well as we investigate the roles that various academic administrators have played in this case, established procedures have been compromised as they pertain to the alleged actions of the Chair.

      The concerns leading to this conclusion focus on the fact that the University itself has sidestepped standard protocols for handling grievances. More specifically, the Chair of the Board of Governors, the Board’s chief spokesperson, gave public, personal testimony related to the case in a University media release. We were shocked that this happened in a formal University media release posted on a University website. (This media release seems to have been removed from news.ubc.ca late Tuesday evening. We have a downloaded copy.) Mr. Montalbano has confused personal interests with the University’s interests.

      As a result of this communication, we had earlier in the day decided to call for Mr. Montalbano to step aside during an investigation of the allegations against him. By late afternoon, we became aware Mr. Montalbano was giving a series of interviews on radio and television, entirely in contradiction to the August 17th press release signed by Provost pro tem Anji Redish and Interim President Martha Piper in which it was affirmed that: “it would entirely be inappropriate to comment further on the allegations until this process has been concluded.”

      And, yet, Mr. Montalbano was doing precisely this in his capacity as Chair of UBC’s Board of Governors.

      Finding a sound and proper process inside the University or with the Board for investigation of the concerns around Mr. Montalbano’s behaviours no longer seemed a viable option.

      While the University has publicly said that a grievance involving Mr. Montalbano could be managed under our usual collective agreement processes, this no longer seemed possible. Mr. Montalbano is a government appointee, not a University employee, so establishing and implementing a fair process to investigate the Chair of the Board of Governors given that Chair’s dominating presence in and apparent mobilization of the entire system in his own interest seemed challenging, to say the least.

      Indeed, even though we had initiated our usual informal processes with the University in a way that made it clear that there were serious allegations against Mr. Montalbano, Mr. Montalbano did not step aside as Chair pending the conclusion of a full investigation.

      We have lost confidence that there can be an internal investigation process uninfluenced by Mr. Montalbano, either within our usual labour relations processes or through a Board-driven process.

      Consequently, we are calling for Mr. Montalbano’s immediate resignation as Chair of the Board of Governors. He has shown an inability to allow proper procedures to proceed and has used his office as Chair of the Board to engage personally and publicly with the issues under investigation. This behaviour is ill judged and threatens the integrity of ongoing processes.

      We did not take this decision to request Mr. Montalbano’s resignation lightly. His handling of Professor Gupta’s resignation and his mismanagement of subsequent events are now compounded by breaches of standard protocols, and lead us to believe that his resignation will be in the best interests of the University and the public.

      Please read our letter carefully.

      Sincerely,

      Mark Mac Lean

      President

      On August 18, Montalbano vowed to stay on as UBC chair.

      In a statement, Montalbano also denied that he violated the academic freedom of Jennifer Berdahl, the Montalbano professor of leadership studies in gender and diversity at UBC's Sauder School of Business, who has claimed she felt "institutional pressure to be silent" after writing a blog post about the resignation of Gupta.

      Comments

      5 Comments

      UBC_Faculty

      Aug 19, 2015 at 10:41am

      For a long time, UBC has been putting money not where it's priorities are. Cosmetic, swanky buildings are more about just that, than any in-built academic functionality (ask students about the state of their lecture rooms/silos/theatres). The recent uncontrolled/unplanned/unwanted 'investments' in infrastructure, including a generous loan to Vantage college (what is UBC thinking, a bank?), have lead to serious questioning of the academic directions UBC is setting itself. The rise and rise of UBC properties Trust over the last few years is worth a closer scrutiny.

      In this milieu, gaping holes in a budget are not surprising to find for any new president. What is required then is to boldly ask: what is important and what is optional. There is no point in blaming the government or the Canadian tax payers saying they are not funding UBC sufficiently, when the administration (particularly at the guidance set by the board) is blowing it on a publicly funded private real estate enterprise. Why does coffee cost more on UBC campus than say in the Village, for that matter more expensive stationery at Campus Book Store compared with Staples? All these point to now-deeply-ingrained business minded blood that flows from top administration down to the individual Departments, and dare I say, professors. This raises serious credibility questions surrounding the rationale for a university funded by the tax payer, when their children can not get in (because of limited seats as well as increasingly more seats allocated for international students whose qualification seems to be the depth of their pocket than their academic qualifications).

      Given the above, should UBC change its priorities and directions? YES. Can concerned faculty, students, and public at large influence these directions? Yes, We can.

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      Student

      Aug 19, 2015 at 11:44am

      So people do intend to look into Jennifer Berdahl's "blog" post a bit more as well right? I thought she'd be the first individual fired.

      one fact

      Aug 19, 2015 at 2:01pm

      re: "when their children can not get in (because of limited seats as well as increasingly more seats allocated for international students whose qualification seems to be the depth of their pocket than their academic qualifications)."

      Untrue. No seats have been lost for domestic students to provide pace for international students. The Province funds x numbers of domestic seats, a number which has remained capped for quite some time. In order to grow, and to in crease income (which has helped keep domestic student fees down), UBC has increased international numbers, but NOT at the cost of domestic places (you can blame the Provincial government for not increasing domestics places at UBC).

      Another fact

      Aug 20, 2015 at 9:43am

      Just in response to One fact, while everything said is true--the BC Govt caps student numbers at each post-sec institution in the sense that they only pay for a certain number, it is perfectly within UBC and other universities/college's powers to admit more BC students with slightly lower grades if they decided to reallocate their resources to achieve that. But the powers that be would rather have a building agenda (look at all the new buildings at UBC--the conversion of the steam system to hot water,etc. the money poured into non-academic services, including athletics, and the swathe of services for students, not to mention the bloat of admin positions at high salaries). What one can say is that UBC employs a lot of construction workers, so it is providing jobs for the BC economy, but at a cost of local students. Revenue from market housing is great for research funding and these services, but is the balance right? What if UBC reallocated 10% of its budget to admitting more local students? At $30,000 a student (if the international student fees are the real cost) might not produce many new domestic students, but it would be a signal of intent. Basically, what is core and what is optional/nice to have has been lost at UBC to some degree. The sports guys wouldn't like this (heck they are still sore over the last sports review) but shouldn't we expect the core mission to be fully funded? Isn't that the debate we should be having? This gets us back to trustworthy governance.

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      Cynic

      Aug 20, 2015 at 11:35am

      With the increase in the population of BC, why has the number of funded spots for local students at the undergraduate level remained fixed at x year after year, with the international student population increasing many-fold. Shouldn't the local numbers be increasing as well? However, don't worry about the shortage of spots, Christy Clark has sorted it all out us concerned BC families by decreeing that Capilano and Kwantlen colleges are now universities as well. So with your 86 percent average, which is below the UBC entrance for local students, you can enter into a "new" university as well. Just don't expect to study any hard-core professional programs like engineering, cpsc, social work, law, commerce, etc.., leading to top careers, because these places don't have these options. Oh, and if your family is not rich enough to have the $$$$ to send you to another province to do an undergrad degree, that's just too bad.

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