How not to run UBC

The most deleterious of the effects of Montalbano’s meddling will be on faculty and students who do not have the protection of tenure, creating a chilling effect on critical discourse.

Aerial view of the UBC campus.
Aerial view of the UBC campus.

If you thought UBC was actually investigating the charges its board chairman breached the academic freedom of a professor, you’d be wrong. 

Following the University of British Columbia Board of Governors’ secret  meeting on Monday, Angela Redish (Provost Pro Tem) and Martha Piper (Interim President) released a statement on academic freedom.

This statement was widely reported as an announcement that UBC was initiating an active investigation of the charges made by Professor Jennifer Berdahl against UBC Board of Governors Chair John Montalbano for breeching her academic freedom in his response to her analysis of the sudden departure of Arvind Gupta as UBC’s president. Details here and here.

Sample headlines:

UBC statement: “Serious” allegations of breaches of academic freedom to be investigated [Georgia Straight]

UBC to investigate Prof. Jennifer Berdahl’s claim she felt ‘gagged’ [CBC]

UBC to investigate complaint over blog post about former president [Globe and Mail]

Problem is the Redish/Piper statement does not actually say that there is or will be an investigation.

The Redish/Piper statement only describes the existing UBC policies on academic freedom and grievance and arbitration procedures.

Redish and Piper state,

UBC has rigorous processes in place – established with the agreement of the Faculty Association – to investigate any allegation of breach of academic freedom. It is imperative that we follow this impartial process embedded within and protected by the collective agreement before pre-judging unproven and untested allegations at this time.

The high and mighty tone of the statement regarding UBC’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom and “rigorous processes” is a misdirection from the fact that this statement does not announce an investigation of Berdahl’s complaints that Montalbano breeched her academic freedom.

All the bluster about academic freedom is followed by a non-sequitur describing a non-existent investigation.

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.

Presuming the process would actually ever start.

It is curious that the Redish/Piper statement focuses on the university’s collective agreement with faculty and does not mention the UBC Board of Governors Policy 3 on Discrimination and Harassment.

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