Academic publishing in the time of sanctions and boycotts

On December 7th, the academic publisher Taylor & Francis informed two authors that they are unable to publish their mathematical research paper, even though it had been accepted by the editorial board of one of its journals two years after submission and revisions. Actually the paper had been posted online and a DOI had been assigned. The reason given? The US sanctions on the authors’ country: Iran. I give a bit more details below, but there is also another story within the story.

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Maurice Sion: 1927 – 2018

Maurice Sion was a very dear friend and a distinguished colleague in the mathematics department at the University of British Columbia. He died peacefully in his sleep on April 20, 2018. Maurice retired from UBC in 1989, after a career in which he contributed much to Mathematics and to our university. A former Department Head, Maurice was the lead organizer for the International Congress of Mathematicians held in Vancouver in 1974. There was a memorial service for him on July 27, 2018. I spoke there about Maurice’s life and my personal relation with him and his family. I was planning to include my notes here, but then the speeches of his three children were so spectacular that they were the ones worth publishing. Here is the one by his daughter Sarica, where she documents his fascinating pre-UBC years.

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Robert M. Miura: 1938 – 2018

I just got word that my friend and colleague, Robert Miura, passed away on November 25th. Robert was born in Selma, California, to an immigrant family from Japan. When he was three years old, he and his family were sent to a Relocation Center after the attack on Pearl Harbor ignited decades of anti-Japanese racism and led to the forced removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Upon their return to farming in California’s Central Valley, Robert and his family experienced racially-motivated violence as they struggled to reestablish their lives. This episode left an indelible mark on Robert’s life. We had lots to talk about.

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When the Walls of Governance Come Crumbling Down

“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.” That was May 2014, and the open letter was signed by 16 UBC distinguished scholars associated in one way or another to the institute. Fast forward to November 2018, and we learn again that the Director of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS), Philippe Tortell, resigned in protest over the actions of the Institute Trustees, who have taken control of the strategic planning process and re-directed a large portion of Institute funding to support on-going research activities controlled by the central administration. The reaction was even more pronounced this time around. The actions that led to the resignation have sparked vigorous debate across campus, re-igniting concerns over academic governance, centrally directed research, ethics of philanthropy, management of conflict of interest, and administrative over-reach.

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Why I am voting against the tuition increases for domestic students

During my previous two terms on the UBC Board of Governors from 2008 to 2014, I always voted in support of the administration’s maximum government-allowable 2% increases in tuition fees for domestic students. But things are different this time.

The substantial hikes in international tuition fees implemented in 2015, and the ensuing dramatic increases in the number of international students, have led to a remarkable 44% increase in tuition and student fees revenue for UBC. It is time to use this windfall of resources to alleviate the financial burden on the people of British Columbia, who have been investing for decades directly and indirectly in their flagship institution.

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Resignation of the director of the Wall Institute: The reaction

The Board of Trustees of the Wall Institute is trying to reach out to a revolted UBC community by announcing a one-year moratorium on the changes they had dictated, only a week ago, to Director Philippe Tortell. This had led to his resignation in a – worth listening to- fiery speech in front of most heads of units at UBC. President Santa Ono did not, however, address the institute’s future beyond next year, though he committed that the (unchanged and apparently conflicted) five-person board would consult with members of the UBC community on future decisions. In the meantime, Philippe Tortell received tons of correspondence (comments, supportive messages, copies of letters to Ono) and “Piece of Mind” got several requests from faculty to post their opinions and letters about this matter. They are informative and we think worth posting even anonymously for practical reasons. The “listening tour” of the Board of Trustees can surely start with a stop here.

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Why I am resigning from the directorship of the Wall institute

By Professor Philippe Tortell

Universities are places where imagination and unconstrained thinking converge to produce major advancements in fundamental knowledge.  Intellectual breakthroughs hide in unusual places, and often appear when they are most unexpected.  For this reason, the University must be a bastion of curiosity-driven fundamental research, where great minds freely explore new intellectual horizons through unfettered and unscripted work.

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