Confidence Game: Conflict-of-Interest, Confidentiality Clauses, and Our Public Universities


What happened at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Calgary over the last year and a half make it clear that we need radical change in how Canada’s universities are run. The culture of secrecy at our public universities must end.

Originally posted on Arts Squared:

Three public cases in the Canadian academy over the last year and a half make it clear that we need radical change in how Canada’s universities are run.

The most recent of these cases came to public attention last Monday morning, when the CBC broke the news that Elizabeth Cannon appears to have been conducting herself in ways that put her in a conflict-of-interest with the public trust reposed in her as President of the University of Calgary. Working with documents that he had obtained under a freedom of information request, Kyle Bakx of the CBC reports that email communications at the University of Calgary strongly suggest that Cannon was requiring academic staff at the University of Calgary to take decisions based upon their sense of the oil company Enbridge’s importance as a donor to the University. Or, as Bakx more bluntly puts it, the documents show the university “bending over backward to accommodate the…

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Jennifer Berdahl and Margot Young for the presidential search committee

“This leaves me asking whether, as a faculty member, I am a “serf”—one of the humble toiling masses—whose opinion is unimportant, or who is deemed too primitive to engage in an informed dialogue about the course of the university’s future.” That’s what one senior colleague wrote after the announcement of the sudden departure of Arvind Gupta from the UBC presidency. But there are now signs that the faculty at UBC want to claim their university back. The presidential search process is a first and important step in that direction.

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The faculty representatives on the UBC Board of Governors have failed us

Drs. Darrin Lehman, Richard Johnston, and Michael Treschow were elected to the UBC Board of Governors by the faculty to represent the best interests of the university. As such, they are expected to believe in, support, and protect the core academic values of our institution. Other Governors look to them to bring to the Board table knowledge and expertise in academic practices and traditions. It is they who are supposed to articulate the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the role of faculty in this partnership. It is their role to communicate to the broader faculty community the impact of Board decisions on core academic matters in a spirit of transparency and accountability. In all this they have failed the university and they have failed the faculty.

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UBC Faculty Association response to the report by Honourable Lynn Smith

Dear Colleagues:

The Honourable Lynn Smith, Q. C., completed her fact-finding process last week and presented the parties with her report. We thank Professor Smith for her fair and impartial process and for producing a high quality, nuanced report, a public summary of which is attached here. Summary-of-Process-and-Conclusions-Final

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Shared governance hits rock bottom at UBC, by Professor Stephen Petrina

The Board of Governors’ rejection this week of the Faculty Association’s request for accountability in President Gupta’s resignation marks the low point of shared or faculty governance at the University of British Columbia. It’s a shame that UBC sunk to rock bottom as it intended to rise to the occasion of its 100th birthday. Continue reading

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Artificial Intelligence uncovers how Gupta and Montalbano became blood brothers

In view of the sudden resignation of UBC’s president and the limited but informative statements provided by the Chair of the Board, a colleague decided to perform a computer-assisted reconstruction of the events that led to the resignation. She fed all the publicly available information into her state-of the-art computer program and added some of the known background about President Gupta, Chair Montalbano, and their associates. Here was the outcome as spelled out by R2D2. It is supposed to be funny, but if you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, you are not alone. Continue reading

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The UBC leadership crisis is entering its fifth week. By “leadership crisis,” I include of course the sudden and non-explained resignation of a president, but also the glaring deficiency in leadership that followed. Starting with the amateurish handling of the announcement, to the alleged heavy-handed interference with a colleague’s research work, to the power vacuum eventually occupied by PR consultants, to the valiant but somewhat simplistic efforts of the interim president to restore a semblance of sanity to the institution. To those of you who are just joining us, here is a good analysis/summary of the situation by Melonie Fullick.

Originally posted on Whiteboard Workout:

If there’s a lesson to be learned from the recent events at UBC, it’s that silence can say more than words, whether you’re withholding information or telling someone else to keep quiet. That probably sounds obvious, but the university’s announcement of Arvind Gupta’s resignation—and its handling of the events that followed—reflect some problematic assumptions about who should be able to speak, when, and what should be said.

What was it that triggered UBC’s current public crisis? Gupta’s July 31 departure was announced publicly on August 7 in classic “Friday Afternoon News Dump” fashion: UBC published a news release, which was tweeted shortly after 4pm EDT. In a news release where roughly 50% of the text was devoted to celebratory prose about the incoming interim president (Dr. Martha Piper), UBC gave no explanation for Gupta’s resignation except that he had “decided he can best contribute to the university and lead…

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