Standing up to bullies

Canadians everywhere will take a stand against bullying by participating in Pink Shirt Day today (Feb. 24). UBC scholars are helping us define and recognize Bullying. Although they are mostly focused on how to “bully-proof” our children, this unique form of aggression can happen at any age and any level of responsibility. Bullying is not restricted to schoolyards, factories, and prisons. It can affect white collars as much as anyone. Some scholars are now arguing that ostracism is even more damaging than bullying in the workplace, though it is difficult sometimes to see the difference.  An incredible document has surfaced recently. In my opinion, it is textbook material and belongs to every classroom at UBC on this Pink Shirt day. Scholars and students alike should be analyzing it for its tone, its content, its real intent, and its potential impact. Here is a summarized version of this document, which is a memo from someone in a position of power to a subordinate.

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Salient points of Daniel Heath Justice’s letter of resignation from the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee in response to Furlong’s reinstatement


Dear Professor Ono,

I read with dismay the announcement yesterday that John Furlong has been reinstated as a UBC fundraising speaker. … There were many responsible and compassionate ways this matter might have been handled that would not have once again silenced or erased the abuse allegations of dozens of people from the Lake Babine First Nation — some of whom I understand have contacted your office and have received no response — but the result of UBC’s press releases has been to do precisely that, and to once again undermine the hard work that so many of us have undertaken at this university to do ethical, accountable work in relationship with Indigenous communities.

Given these events, I am sad to say that I cannot continue to serve with integrity on the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee. It is impossible to do so given that the Committee’s good work has…

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Shaking up the UBC Board of Governors

Month after month of bad press in local and national media outlets didn’t do it. Petition after petition asking for transparency and accountability from the governors and the managerial class didn’t do it. Eight hundred faculty members voting non-confidence in the Board of Governors didn’t do it. And the jury is still out on whether even a new president with a reportedly rock star status and a de-facto strengthened mandate can do it. But we still see one glitter of hope for our university. Continue reading

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Interview with a mathematician: Nassif Ghoussoub

In this interview, Anthony Bonato got me to reveal quite a bit about my background, my path to mathematics, my role in founding the Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS), the MITACS Network of Centres of Excellence, and the Banff International Research Station (BIRS), my years on the UBC Board of Governors, my position on Arvind Gupta’s “mandatus interruptus,” my impressions on UBC president Santa Ono’s first steps, as well as my take on social media, and the future of Mathematical research. A bit long, but hopefully not very boring.

The Intrepid Mathematician

Nassif Ghoussoub is the founder and current director of the Banff International Research Station, the founding director of the Pacific Institute of Mathematics, and the co-founder of MITACS NCE. On top of all that, he is an award-winning mathematician, whose most recent work focuses on differential equations and mass transport theory.


I met Nassif when he was Scientific Director of MPrime NCE. My first impression of him was that he was amiable, laser sharp, and a natural leader. I’ve read his blog Piece of Mindfor years, where he posts refreshingly blunt (but fair) views on the academy.

Nassif was recently inducted into the Order of Canada, which is an honour he very highly deserves. I think we should all be proud as Canadians to have a mathematician of his stature represent us in Ottawa and on the world stage.

During the interview, Nassif was warm and open. I find the way Nassif talks about mathematics and…

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About Naylor’s panel roundtable regarding Big Science in a Canadian Context

For those not paying attention, David Naylor is leading “Canada’s Fundamental Science Review Panel” which is looking at the state of fundamental science in Canada. Last week, I had a chance to participate at a roundtable of experts in Calgary, where the consultation was about Big and Expensive Science infrastructure. Being director of a big but relatively cheap science research infrastructure, I wondered first whether I really belonged to that club. Indeed, other participants included directors of Canada’s landmark mega-projects: Triumf, SNOLAB, Canadian light source, Compute Canada, the Thirty-Meter Telescope, etc. Revealing on Twitter where I was and with whom, solicited this tweet from a colleague: “That’s like inviting the big 5 banks to a meeting on interest rates & ATM fees!” In fairness it wasn’t that bad, though the consultation could have benefited from a few more independent observers of big Canadian Science. I considered myself one of those – one panelist confided that I was invited because I’m known to speak my mind. But, in spite of valiant efforts by Art MacDonald who was chairing, the format was not conducive to speaking minds and extensive analysis, hence, this post.

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Research funding of Mathematics and Statistics in Canada

A submission from the NSERC Mathematics and Statistics Liaison group, to the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development, on research funding of mathematics and statistics in Canada.

1. Mathematics and Statistics in our research system; revolution, or a golden age

To the non-initiate, mathematics might seem frozen in time, rehashing the glories of earlier centuries. Nothing could be further from the truth. The last twenty years have seen a veritable explosion of results, as new horizons have opened. Centuries-old conjectures such as Fermat’s or Poincaré’s have been proven, and not just by seeing something long overlooked; on the contrary, the proofs have come through veritable revolutions, fundamental rebuilding of the mathematical arsenal, which are now having vast impacts way beyond their original application. These are exciting times; the reader might with profit, albeit at the expense of some time, consult the excellent “The Mathematical Sciences in 2025”, prepared for the US National Research Council.

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The Submission of BIRS and Canada’s Mathematical Sciences Institutes to Canada’s Fundamental Science Review

The Mathematical Sciences are the foundation of any advanced research ecosystem, and Canada’s mathematical sciences institutes have been instrumental in supporting this ecosystem. They do so by providing scientific leadership, by developing coherent national strategies for mathematical and statistical discovery and innovation, by transcending geographic and disciplinary barriers, by maximizing provincial leveraging, by spearheading international partnerships, and by connecting the research enterprise with the imperatives of providing training and education at all levels.

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Saving the UBC Senate from itself

By Vinayak Vatsal, Professor of Mathematics, UBC



Much has been made at UBC on the subject of governance, sparked by such diverse issues as the sudden resignation of Arvind Gupta, the violation of academic freedom that occurred in the aftermath of the resignation, the university’s non-response to complaints of sexual assault, and the handling of a petition to ask for divestment from fossil fuels.

Most of the discussion has been focussed narrowly on the Board of Governors and senior administrators, since it is within their ambit that this series of unfortunate events lies. A vote of non-confidence in the Board was held, and more than 800 faculty members voted to censure the Board for its perceived failures.

But largely forgotten in the discussion are the facts that UBC is a bicameral institution, and that the UBC Senate is is endowed by the University Act with expansive powers to manage the academic affairs of the institution. In principle at least, the…

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