A research community at the mercy of a leaderless NSERC  

The bureaucrats of a leaderless NSERC have extended the 5-year grants of three research institutes by two years. This amounts to assigning awards exceeding $7,500,000. They have done so without peer review and against the wishes of one of their own liaison committees and even against the stated position of most of the grantees themselves. Besides issues of authority and accountability, this seemingly friendly act is destined to fracture a research community that strives to work collaboratively and coherently for the national interest. Moreover, the move threatens to upend Canadian leadership in a fragile international collaboration.  Let me explain.

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A busy first four months on the UBC Board of Governors

Things are different from my earlier 2008-14 term on the Board of Governors, but I still don’t know exactly why. The 2015-17 “revolt of the faculty” has surely been a factor. The UBClean campaign was triggered by questionable actions of a clueless Board vis-a-vis a new presidency that was trying -among other things- to refocus the university on the academic mission.  And now we have more data about how far this university had erred away from that mission: the number of assistant professors decreased from 619 in 2006 to 408 in 2017, while student enrollment increased during that same period by more than 20,000–Think about it! My sense is that the current Board -in spite of its new membership- has learned from that painful episode and is trying to re-prioritize the core mission of the university: learning and research. I am not so sure yet about our relatively new administration, which may still be taking its pointers from an entrenched middle management. Otherwise, why do they keep defending an inglorious record that is not theirs to own?

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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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