Many colleagues wrote after last week’s post, that they had never heard of rumours of a “Deans’ rebellion”. Actually, I had started wondering about this when I learned that a few of the deans are as shocked and upset by the President’s resignation as most of the faculty. Furthermore, a couple of the dozen reporters sniffing around the Montalbano-Gupta affair asked me last week, whether I had heard of a joint letter from the Deans to the Board. I didn’t and for good reasons. One of the reporters eventually confirmed that no such letter exists; only a joint formal request by the Deans to meet the president to discuss the transition after Farrar’s departure from the provost-ship. So I started wondering. What if the rumours of a “Deans’ uprising” were only rumours? What if dissent had been manufactured?
Of course, there could be all kind of non-official communications between certain Deans and some members of the Board (I’ve heard of a few at Mahoney’s!) that could have been used by whoever is interested in destabilizing a presidency, at least vis-à-vis an ignorant or motivated government. But let’s work with what’s known as opposed to speculate on unknowns.
All things considered, it must be clear to everyone that Gupta was a Dean’s dream president.
Out of the gate, Gupta’s main message was loud, clear and consistent. Refocusing the university on the academic mission. He said so to the more than 60 academic units he visited in his first year in office. And he didn’t wait long (or for new money) to start shifting focus and resources in that direction.
An interim VP told me early on in Gupta’s presidency that there were some concerns that Gupta is divesting too much from the central administration to support the Faculties (I recall a 6% figure mentioned).
From the university’s public announcements, you can already learn that President Gupta was starting to transfer to the Faculties all federal funds connected to the Canada Research Chairs (The central administration used to skim 20% from the federal allocation). Ditto for the indirect costs of research.
The president couldn’t have been popular in certain circles by freezing various pre-approved capital projects so as to support teaching, research and student services.
Gupta put his neck on the line with the student body by increasing the tuition fees for international students. But, in view of the transfer formulae for tuition fees in place at UBC, it is clear that the Deans and the Faculties were the biggest beneficiaries of this action. They will be for many years to come.
Members of the Presidential Academic Advisory Committee wrote to the Vancouver Sun how “Dr. Gupta had a vision for the university that was shaped by those who study and work here. He asked us to focus on the hiring and retention of distinguished faculty, the development of broad research communities within UBC, and improved support for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.” Isn’t this a dean’s dream agenda?
All this before he (jointly with the Deans) even started rolling out his ambitious long term strategic plan, which was planned for this fall.
So what was going on? True, a few deans may have been unhappy to see Farrar go. But is that it?
It is of course expected that a couple of the deans may have ambitions of their own and may have grown impatient about it. But these are surely not precursors of “a revolution”.
The question remains, why was this described as such to the Board and to certain branches of government? And how do the majority of deans feel about having being lured into this manufactured dissent.
If some of the Deans arranged for President Gupta’s resignation in retaliation for the dismissal of senior admin members they would hardly say so in public.
These speculations seem to go in the wrong direction for future minority hires. Wouldn’t it be more useful to ask if President Gupta should have discussed his problems with the Board of Governors with the Deans and Faculty members and asked for a continuous show of support? Secondly do future minority Presidents who are not pro-concrete have to ensure that they have a core of Dean and Faculty support that they can rely on before they agree to take the post?
Thirdly how does Professor Gupta’s first year of office compare to those of previous Presidents in terms of accomplishments – do the results match research showing that minority hires have to be 2 to 3 times as productive to be considered as competent as a “standard hire”.
This would be the explanation least damaging to the university’s long-term social fabric. I don’t know the nature of the agreements between UBC and our deans – if most/many deans feel that they would like Arvind reinstated if he was willing to return, I wonder how they could articulate it.