UBC Presidential Search Committee: Large yet not representative enough

“I understand you have been elected to serve on the Presidential Search Committee. Thank you so much for taking this important task on,” wrote the Chancellor. It is of course always nice to hear that you have once again gained the confidence and trust of your colleagues (Many thanks to the 561 of you who voted!). Yet, something didn’t feel right. The memo was of course reminding me that I was in effect taking on yet another responsibility for the next eight months, but this had never phased me before. My discomfort was originating from my duty on the Management Resources & Compensation Committee (MRCC) of the Board of Governors.

This small committee, which consists of the Chair, the Chancellor, the President (who excludes himself from meetings related to the search) and one other Board member, is supposed to oversee the presidential search, making sure in particular that all university stakeholders have a voice in this crucial choice. But now that all 22 members of the presidential search committee have been selected, I realize that the terms of reference that we developed at the MRCC for this search were lacking.

The University Governance started to get challenged as soon as the Okanagan campus was integrated into the UBC system in 2004. The quest to have representation from both campuses led to significant increases –by at least one-third—in the membership of most of the university standing committees, including the Board of Governors.

The terms of reference devised by the MRCC followed the trend started in 2004 of a 2:1 ratio in faculty, students, deans, and senates’ representation, a far cry from the actual ratios of the various constituents. For example, the faculty at UBC-Vancouver are 90% of the total currently in the UBC system. There are 38500 students at UBC-V and 8300 at UBC-O.

The challenge originates from the obvious fact that you cannot have a fractional human representation and in many cases the UBC-O representation has to be either zero, which is unfair and unwise, or one, which is often disproportionately high. The problem with the terms of reference that the current MRCC developed eventually led to a 2-2 ratio for faculty representation, a 2-1 ratio for the Senates, and another 2-1 ratio for the Deans.

The most obvious negative impact of this disproportionate representation is the fact that the health sciences and in particular our prominent Faculty of Medicine, will not be represented on the search committee. None of the 4 faculty candidates from Medicine was elected for the 2 slots available to the faculty at UBC-V. The sole Governor with adequate knowledge of the health sciences is not on the search committee. The Deans at UBC-V are represented by the Dean of science and by the Dean of the diminutive Faculty of Law.

I single out the Faculty of Medecine, not only because of its size, its prominence and its global role with many universities across the province. Because it is also structurally different from the rest of the university, be it in its modus operandi, its contractual agreements with many of its faculty, as well as its relatively complex relationships with the medical researchers on campus and in the various hospitals.

For a more equitable representation on the search committee, we need to alter the terms of reference so that:

  • Three faculty members from UBC-V are elected as opposed to the current two.
  • The number of representatives from the Alumni Association Board is reduced from three (including the Chancellor) to two.
  • The MRCC gets to choose its three representatives (besides the Chair and the Chancellor) only after the elections by the various stakeholders are completed. This will then allow the Board of Governors to balance and fill the gaps in the representation, whenever it is needed.

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