Highlights from the installation speech of UBC’s 13th President, Arvind Gupta

Dr.-Arvind-Gupta-770Here are excerpts from the speech of Arvind Gupta at his official installation as UBC’s 13th president. Canada’s post-secondary system should take notice.

“We recognize UBC as a Place of Mind, but also as a place of shared cultures, traditions, and history. We come together as a community striving to excel in a spirit of integrity, diversity, inclusiveness and mutual respect. Continue reading

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The President of the University of Alberta asked us to think twice, and we have!

Back in 2009, a dozen faculty members from 10 different Canadian universities initiated an open letter to the Prime Minister imploring him to “not leave Canada behind.” The federal “stimulus” budget had just announced a substantial cut to the three federal granting councils, and more than 2800 senior researchers across the country had signed against it in protest, causing a major stir on Parliament hill. Two of the letter initiators were summoned by the presidents of their respective universities for “questioning” and for a piece of unsolicited “advice”. The idea of doing so never crossed the mind of the president of UBC, Stephen Toope, who happened to both understand and uphold the principles of academic freedom and free speech. The actions around the latest events at the University of Saskatchewan made me appreciate more than ever his principled stand. Continue reading

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A ton of career blood in the cause of clearly defining academic freedom

“This letter is also to advise you that the administration leave scheduled to begin on July 1, 2014 is hereby revoked…You are to receive your final pay on May 30, 2014, as per the normal payroll cycle. You are to leave campus immediately and are not to return to your office, the School of Public Health or the university. All benefits and pension cease as of today. Please contact … Human Resources … to make arrangements for the return of university equipment and your office keys, as well as to arrange a time that is appropriate to collect any remaining personal effects.” Continue reading

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On the dark side of philanthropy

“We are deeply disappointed that Janis Sarra has had to step down as Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies… Like her, we will all work to secure the academic independence of the Institute and its programs, and to reform its governance.” This open letter signed by 16 UBC distinguished scholars –associated in one way or another with the Peter Wall Institute– took many by surprise. The consensus on campus is that the relatively newly appointed Director has been doing a good job. Continue reading

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Return on investment in faculty rarely captured by university CFOs

“Mr. President, We are not employees of the university. We are the university.”

With these words, Isidore Rabi, a distinguished faculty member at Columbia University, interrupted Dwight Eisenhower, who had started off a speech by addressing the faculty as “employees of the university.” Generation after generation of faculty members has repeated this inspirational anecdote from the early 1950s, though they know very well that their universities are increasingly becoming about everything other than the faculty. And the situation appears to be worsening. To the professional managerial class that nowadays run the neoliberal version of post-secondary education, the faculty is often seen as merely the source of the university’s problems. So, before too many of my colleagues get used to being seen as a cost, not something that provides net positive value to the university, I would like to use charter accountants’ speak to argue that investment in university research excellence could be and should be viewed as a possible driver of future revenue. Continue reading

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UBC appoints a doer as its 13th President

imgresOnce again, UBC has steered clear of appointing a career university administrator for its top position. Unlike UofT and UVic, who opted for the ultimate insiders, and McGill, who went for a consummate bureaucrat, UBC has chosen to appoint a man of vision, with hardly any record in traditional university administration. But in Arvind Gupta, UBC is also betting on a formidable man of action, with considerable experience in conceiving, implementing and delivering innovative programs for advanced research, university-industry synergies, academic training, and job placement for university graduates. With this choice, UBC continues an honorable tradition of calculated risk-taking when dealing with its leadership. Continue reading

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Bye Bye Board

Yesterday was my last day on the UBC Board of Governors, the end of an extremely rewarding six-year stint. To the faculty who elected me decisively twice for the Board and another time for the Presidential search committee, I say thank you for your trust. I have tried to the best of my ability to present your perspective. I have also strived to inform about the issues, hence this (dreaded!) blog. My take on the experience? Well, it is a piece of cake for those who are in it for the cocktail parties. But it is surely stressful and exhausting to those who choose to speak their mind and stick their neck out when need be. The Board aspect of university governance works if and only if you work hard at it and speak up. “Governing” during the time of Stephen Toope was relentless, intellectually stimulating, and somewhat empowering. Yes, I have managed to accomplish a couple of things, and yes the experience was enriching, but these are not the only reasons why I feel fortunate to have served. Let me explain.

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