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Professors blast UBC's "failures of governance"

This piece was co-authored by Sandra Mathison, Stephen Petrina, and E. Wayne Ross.

As the University of British Columbia’s crises of administration and legitimacy grow worse, the UBC Faculty Association has re-issued its call for an external review of the Board of Governors and its operations.

Clearly, there are failures of governance and shadow systems of decision-making from the ranks of middle management to the top of the Board. The UBCFA announced last week:

The events of the past year or so, as information about them slowly leaks out, demonstrate a failure of governance that threatens the integrity and credibility of the University. This is a singular moment in the 100-year history of UBC, the solution to which requires strong actions on the part of the Board of Governors.

We have called publicly for an external review of the Board and its operations. At this point, we re-issue this call. Such a review is essential to restore public trust in the Board. To accomplish this, the leadership for such a review must have the support of the University community – of faculty, students, staff, and alumni….

Some current members of the Board, including the Chancellor of UBC, have been shown in recent, now public, documents to have been involved in activities around the resignation of Dr. Gupta that appear to contravene standard and expected Board practices. Improper conduct of Board business is a serious matter. The former Chair of the Board, John Montalbano, has resigned. What onus of response falls on these other Board members, given these revelations?

Since UBC President Arvind Gupta resigned unexpectedly last August, the institution’s managers and governors agreed to remain silent and move records and answers to non-disclosure agreements and privacy protection, while the Board continues its long tradition of conducting business in secret, undocumented meetings and via email accounts that are not subject to Freedom of Information requests.

In addition to calls from the university’s faculty association and Alma Mater student society for an external review the board operations a rank and file group of faculty members are currently petitioning the Executive of the UBCFA to bring a motion to its membership expressing no confidence in the Board of Governors as soon as possible.

But let’s not forget that UBC’s crisis of leadership in not limited to the operations of its board. Indeed, it has now become clear that at the root of the Gupta resignation debacle are campus managers who seem to believe the university exists primarily for them. UBC is an exemplar of what Benjamin Ginsberg has dubbed the all-administrative university.

After five months of Freedom of Information requests, UBC released a partial disclosure of records related to Gupta’s resignation. One answer is implicit and explicit in the disclosure: UBC campus managers mutinied, at least in part, because Gupta planned to redirect resources away from administration and feared they might actually be held accountable.

On the record, a rift formed between Gupta, the Dragon’s Den leader, and emotionally vulnerable middle managers. “You are deemed too quick to engage in debate in a confrontational or dismissive manner,” Gupta was scolded then UBC Board Chair John Montalbano, “which is demoralising to a group of executives in fear of their employment security.” Gupta was not Presidential.

Off the record, there’s another storyline, perhaps more realistic.

One of the largest employers in British Columbia – with a $2.1 billion operating budget – the university and its Properties Trust have for years been given free passes in the court of accountability. This conceit percolates down through the ranks of middle management.

Gupta was hired in the fallout of serious financial fraud cases within the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry. Controversies, such as the Sauder School of Business students’ rape chant in September 2013 had chipped away confidence in the ranks of management.

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