Gupta's mysterious departure challenges UBC's reputation for 'open dialogue'

That giant sucking sound you’ve heard after the board’s announcement is of speculation rushing in to fill the vacuum in the UBC president’s office.

Former UBC president Arvind Gupta. UBC photo
Former UBC president Arvind Gupta. UBC photo

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” 

— Donald Rumsfeld

On Aug. 7 the University of British Columbia Board of Governors announced that Arvind Gupta had resigned as president of the university. The announcement was shocking because Gupta had just completed the first year of his four-year term.

There are very few knowns, a lot of unknowns, and perhaps even more speculations about Gupta’s departure from the president’s office.

The announcement raises many questions as it came after an unscheduled Board of Governors meeting and Gupta was not quoted in the news release nor has he commented on his resignation. The past year has seen a wholesale shake-up of top administrators at UBC and now former UBC president Martha Piper has been named as interim president, starting in September.

That giant sucking sound you’ve heard after the board’s announcement is of speculation rushing in to fill the vacuum in the UBC president’s office.

The announcement itself was timed as a classic Friday afternoon news dump and offered up such a clichéd explanation for Gupta’s departure (“resuming his academic career”) that it did little more than ignite speculation about what caused the leadership crisis the university now finds itself in.

Is Gupta’s exit connected to the shake-up of high-level executives in the university?

The Georgia Straight's Charlie Smith speculates it might have something to do with the departure of Pierre Ouillet who was UBC’s Vice President Finance.

Smith has also offered that Gupta’s departure might be related to his inability to squeeze more money out of the provincial government or because of the transit referendum or because of Christy Clark or because of fundraising in general.

Jennifer Berdahl’s suggestion that Gupta is out because he lost the “masculinity contest” among UBC’s administration seems to have a lot of popular support based on attention it’s getting in the twittersphere.

Berdahl is the Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies in the Sauder School of Business at UBC. She wrote on her blog:

I believe that part of this outcome is that Arvind Gupta lost the masculinity contest among the leadership at UBC, as most women and minorities do at institutions dominated by white men. President Gupta was the first brown man to be UBC president. He isn’t tall or physically imposing. He advocates for women and visible minorities in leadership — a stance that has been empirically demonstrated to hurt men at work.

Berhdahl describes her positive working experiences with Gupta, but doesn’t offer evidence to support a claim that the masculinity contest theory applies to him in this circumstance.

There’s no denying that higher education is rife with workplace harassment, bullying, and mobbing. (The journal Workplace: A Journal of Academic Labor recently devoted an entire issue to this topic.)

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