UBC’s search for a president: Two down but many to go

The Chancellor has just announced the official launch of the search for a new president of UBC to succeed Stephen Toope. “A Search Committee of 22 members broadly representative of the University community – faculty, staff, students and alumni – will be selected.” I was happy to see that both UBC-V and UBC-O Senates had approved the “Terms of Reference” for the search committee as proposed by the Board, in particular those pertaining to its exact composition. Indeed, the new terms contain a couple of positive changes –from past ones– that signal some progress in the continuing discussion regarding the role of the faculty in the university governance. However, many challenges remain.

The first change is that there will be spots on the search committee for 3 faculty members (two from UBC-V and one from UBC-O), which will be elected by and from faculty members in the bargaining unit. In other words, these spots are reserved for the rank-and-file faculty members and cannot be filled by senior administrators including deans and associate deans. This is a significant change, which will set a precedent in the ongoing discussion as to what faculty representation means on the various university standing committees.

Another significant aspect of the new terms of reference is that they allow the Management Resources & Compensation Committee (MRCC) to appoint at most one elected Governor to represent the Board on the search committee. The other three will still have to be Government-appointed members. This is not ideal –as far as I am concerned– but is surely an improvement on past searches, where all Board representatives were somehow decreed to be externally appointed Governors.

The rationale behind this move is self-evident. Yes, there are slots for faculty, students and staff on the search committee to be filled through elections. But these can never play the same role as their counterparts, elected Board members, who have been exposed to the whole range of university files, hot or not, controversial or not, confidential or not. To put it bluntly, the process requires faculty members who have also been to all those closed sessions of the Board, the number and frequency of which are beginning –unfortunately– to exceed those of the open sessions.

But by recalling that I owe my own free, unshackled and independent voice on the Board to the fact that I was elected and not appointed, I came to the conclusion that aspiring to get elected (again) by the faculty to the president’s search committee is –after all– the right way to go. This I shall do, hoping to earn one more time (the third!) their support and trust in order to represent and project, to the best of my ability, their vision of their university and of the person who will be leading it into the future.

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