In view of the sudden resignation of UBC’s president and the limited but informative statements provided by the Chair of the Board, a colleague decided to perform a computer-assisted reconstruction of the events that led to the resignation. She fed all the publicly available information into her state-of the-art computer program and added some of the known background about President Gupta, Chair Montalbano, and their associates. Here was the outcome as spelled out by R2D2. It is supposed to be funny, but if you don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, you are not alone.
On the morning of July 31, 2015
Gupta: Thanks John for coming in so early to the office. You are a very busy man, yet you volunteer so much of your time to chair this institution that we both love. Would you like some Chai.
Montalbano: No thanks, I’ve already had my double espresso.
Gupta: Please have another one and sit down, because I have a little “surprise” for you.
Montalbano: Really, I can hardly wait. I hope it is good news.
Gupta: It depends. But here we go. Hold on to your chair, as they say, Mr. Chair. I am resigning from the presidency of UBC, effective immediately.
Montalbano (Shocked): That’s a surprise, all right. Are you OK, Arvind? Any health problem? Is everything all right with your family?
Gupta: I have never felt better.
Montalbano: This is really regrettable. I hope it is not because of those CVs I asked for last January. Anybody can have a bad day, you know.
Gupta: No, John. This is all forgotten.
Montalbano: What is it then? Is it that you don’t want to wear the $27-million we spent on that bio-mass power plant, or the $100-million plus we committed to the epic “steam to hot water conversion?” I know that you would have preferred to use the money to recruit a bunch of star faculty. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about it now.
Gupta: It is not your problem if BoG got sold on the calculations of that Tansey fella from the Sauder School.
Montalbano: Is it that “Campus as a Living lab” operation? I know that you prefer the “campus as a last refuge for excellent academics” concept, but we can still work on that, can we?
Gupta: I see how these sustainability bills may look like costing you a president right after having costed Farrar a Dean. Just say it was a pure coincidence.
Montalbano: Arvind, I know you were frustrated about the resistance to having a $20-million Centennial Scholarship Fund for our students. But it might not be too late.
Gupta: No worries John. The concept of supporting our students may not be ripe enough for our times. It can surely wait for the UBC bicentennial in 2115.
Montalbano: But you were making so much headway in Ottawa on Transit to UBC, on a National Mobility Program for students, and a new research council to specifically support early career researchers. Who is going to pursue all these exciting initiatives now?
Gupta: Oh, just find yourself a career administrator who enjoys taking red-eyes to Ottawa.
Montalbano: Are you still sulking about the liquidity that Ouillet left you? I know it is a tiny fraction of what was available to Stephen, but hey, the Board helped you increase international fees.
Gupta: Yes John, but I wish I got help in keeping some of it away from those white, tall and athletic Deans.
Gupta: Yes, yes John, you did, but my decision is final.
Montalbano: But how should I explain it to the world?
Gupta: Say that I have made meaningful accomplishments in the past 13 months, but that I have realized that the job of UBC president does not allow me to make any real contribution to the university or Canada’s innovation agenda. Such a contribution is best realized by my taking a yearlong Leave of Absence, effective immediately.
Montalbano: Is this it? I am shocked and genuinely “surprised”. What will the “tens of thousands of students say?”
Plus, I want to come back to my old love, my research on computational complexity. John, you have always been fascinated by “the complexities of this institution. And you yourself have contributed some. Well, myself, I prefer “computational complexity”.
Montalbano: OK, if you say so. It is your life after all. But how “regrettable”. Your contract says that you need to give us a 3 months notice.
Gupta: Sorry. My resignation is effective immediately.
Montalbano: But what should I tell the chancellor?
Gupta: He’s only been with us 9 months, remember. Just say that’s how things are done around here, that UBC alumni don’t care about leadership transitions as much as HSBC shareholders.
Montalbano: And how would the Board react?
Gupta: Let’s face it, you have the full backing of the Board. You always will, regardless of what you do. But hey, within reason, OK?
Montalbano: And the Deans?
Gupta: That Wilkinson is such a worry wart. Have you ever heard of a dean resigning or even threatening to resign? Make sure to re-assure him by stating early in your very first communique that “we have strong academic leaders in our deans.”
Montalbano: But what should I tell the faculty?
Gupta: Just let Anji tell the CBC that, unlike the 15-members of the Faculty Association Executive, the three faculty on BoG have the unconditional backing of all 5000 faculty members. OK, give or take a couple of thousands. And don’t ever underestimate the power of “bring your own bottle parties” and well networked gossip.
Montalbano: And the Faculty Association?
Gupta: No worries there. They only do collective bargaining. They don’t care about who comes and who goes.
Montalbano: But everyone has heard me say that you and I are “brothers in arms. You fail, I fail.” Am I gonna have to resign with you then?
Gupta: Nah! Don’t worry about that John. That was last year. No one will even attempt to question your proven leadership qualities.
Montalbano: But where are we going to find a president on such a short notice?
Gupta: That’s easy. Your secretary knows a bunch of retired ones. She will find you someone who is willing to come back to the spotlight. Think of the glory of presiding over the centennial celebrations.
Montalbano: But you are the first ever non-white president of UBC, and the first to step down so early. What will this do to my diversity credentials?
Gupta: Get yourself a woman president and this will be a non-story. With Anji and Deborah already in place, you will be unassailable on that front. Even better, get Indira and you would score on both diversity counts. All you need is an interim for a year. You can then get back to the old ways.
Montalbano: Wow! What a surprise indeed. I confess that we never did things like that under my leadership at RBC.
Gupta: And by the way, I want my presidential salary for the next little while, if you know what I mean (wink, wink). That’s in my contract, remember?
Montalbano: But, what would the government say?
Gupta: Hard to believe you are worrying about that, John. Suffices for Wilkinson to say that this matter is strictly “between BoG and their employee.”
Montalbano: OK, but it sounds too easy.
Gupta: Yes, and here is the clincher. I need a total shroud of secrecy on the whole affair. Not a single word of our agreement should ever go out. I mean, ever. OK?
Montalbano: But the University is a place of open dialogue and transparency!
Gupta: Just tell people that, regrettably, you must be respectful that confidentiality arrangements were mutually entered into and both parties are bound by that arrangement.
Montalbano: I guess, I can handle that.
Gupta: Great! Let’s now seal the deal, like honourable men used to do in the old days. Let’s poke our thumbs, draw blood and be blood brothers.
Montalbano: How romantic. I always wanted to do something like that, since I was a little boy on the East side, but my neighbours never wanted to play.
Gupta: Thanks for not compromising my future opportunities. I knew you would understand since you yourself have just resigned from RBC, and will be also looking for future opportunities. We might make a great team one day.
Montalbano: Too bad it didn’t work out this time, but let’s face it, politics will be a wholly different ball game.