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.

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Investigation of the academic freedom charges via the collective agreement requires an individual faculty member (or the UBCFA) to file a complaint. This raises interesting questions: Why would Professor Berdahl file a grievance via collective agreement processes? What kind of remedy could she possibly receive as a result of the process?

Berdahal’s blog post on academic freedom says as much, that is, as a tenured full professor she can continue to exercise her academic freedom, albeit in an hostile environment. And, as she points out, 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.

Indeed, today’s announcement by the UBC Faculty Association describes how the usual collective agreement processes have been already ben undermined by Montalbano and the university:

… 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. …

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.

So, if UBC leadership is serious about investigating the alleged breech of academic freedom in the Montalbano/Berdahl case they could and should proceed via Policy 3 on Discrimination and Harassment, which is what they should have done in the first place.

Policy 3 begins with this statement,

The University of British Columbia has responsibility for and is committed to providing its students, staff and faculty with an environment dedicated to excellence, equity and mutual respect; one that is free of Discrimination and Harassment; and one in which the ability to freely work, live, examine, question, teach, learn, comment and criticize is protected. Academic Freedom and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression carries with it the expectation that all Members of the University Community will conduct themselves in a responsible manner so as not to cause, condone or participate in the Discrimination or Harassment of another person or group of persons.

There is no doubt Policy 3 is relevant in this circumstance.

The fundamental objective of Policy 3 is prevention discrimination and harassment on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Code, and it provides procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such discrimination or harassment does occur.

The responsible executive for initiating an investigation under Policy 3 is the Provost and Vice-President Academic, Angela Redish.

UBC is making a quite a name for itself as a result of its lack of transparency in governance and administration.

The shroud of secrecy around the departure of Arvind Gupta is at the heart of the current crisis. And the lack of clarity about the actions of the Board and the administration in responding to Professor Berdahl’s academic freedom charges only compounds how the university’s leadership crisis is undermining academic integrity at UBC.

UBC needs to makes clear if there is an active investigation on Berdahl’s complaint and what the terms of reference are for that investigation. Or, admit that the university is not as dedicated to preserving academic freedom as they have claimed to be.

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