UBC Faculty Association response to the report by Honourable Lynn Smith

Dear Colleagues:

The Honourable Lynn Smith, Q. C., completed her fact-finding process last week and presented the parties with her report. We thank Professor Smith for her fair and impartial process and for producing a high quality, nuanced report, a public summary of which is attached here. Summary-of-Process-and-Conclusions-Final

The key finding of the Smith Report is that the University of British Columbia failed in its duty to support and protect Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom and that it interfered with her academic freedom. The finding thus has two clear implications. First, the University itself actively impinged Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom by the cumulative effects of various University actors’ behaviour. And, secondly, because the duty is a positive one, requiring affirmative and proactive support for academic freedom in situations such as Dr. Berdahl’s, the University’s silence in relation to the attack by others on Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom was an additional failure.

More specifically, the conclusions to be drawn from the Report are as follows. The Report finds that the University acted without regard for the well-being and interests of Dr. Berdahl. Following her online posting of a blog, Dr. Berdahl became the target of attacks by email, by social media, and in columns appearing in the national press. At no time did any university official speak out in defense of her right to academic freedom or issue any other statement of support for her or scholarship. The Smith Report, consequently, concludes that, as a result of the combined acts and omissions of Mr. Montalbano and others, Dr. Berdahl “reasonably felt reprimanded, silenced and isolated.” The events initiated by the University following the publication of Dr. Berdahl’s blog post have had, the Report continues, a “significant negative impact” on Dr. Berdahl.

The main agents involved in the University’s response to the blog post were the Chair of the Board of Governors, Mr. John Montalbano, the Chancellor of the University, Mr. Lindsay Gordon, the Sauder Dean’s Office, as well as UBC staff and others advising the Board on how to handle the aftermath of President Gupta’s resignation. Senior academic leaders were conspicuously absent and silent.

While Dr. Berdahl received support from international scholars and experts in her field, and from faculty throughout UBC and other universities, we are troubled that neither the Administration nor the Board spoke fully and publicly in defense of Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom. The silence with respect to Dr. Berdahl on this issue from these two central sites of university leadership is extraordinary. Senior administrators and board members bear responsibility for this failure.

These mistakes and missteps in the case of Dr. Berdahl have occurred under Mr. Montalbano’s leadership, often as a result of his direct personal involvement.

We await the responses from the Administration and the Board of Governors.

Sincerely,

Mark Mac Lean, President
On behalf of the UBC Faculty Association Executive Committee

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11 Responses to UBC Faculty Association response to the report by Honourable Lynn Smith

  1. A Place of Blind says:

    Ohhhhh, look at the response of the university – We plan to create a new administrative position to look after academic freedom!!! What crap is this??? It essentially means, like in the typical corporate style, ‘academic freedom’ will be a commodity controlled by administrators and branding ads to showcase to the world. Faculty will be under the ‘academic freedom’ microscope forever and in a few years there will be policies after policies and a new office for academic freedom headed by a VP and administrators!! Essentially faculty will be silenced through a sugar-coated knife.
    It is said that when one’s head is swollen common sense is lost. UBC lost a great opportunity with Gupta and no report, ad, new position and media campaign will bring back that lost opportunity.

    • John Cooper says:

      Sorry, whoever you are, but what you’ve written is ‘crap’ of the first order. You have no idea why Dr. Gupta left. If you think that Dr. Gupta remaining at UBC would have either done more to protect academic freedom or made UBC less ‘corporate’ you’re dreaming in technicolour. The facts of the resignation will come out eventually and perhaps you’ll see then why administrative silence on the matter of Dr. Gupta’s resignation was probably best for UBC as a whole, including for people like you, Mac Lean, Berdahl, Hodgson and Ghousoub.

      JC

  2. Ghoussoub says:

    Mr. Cooper. You seem to know what the rest of us at UBC have been longing to learn for a while. Please enlighten us if you can about the reasons behind Gupta’s departure. All what Campus wants is the truth.

    • John Cooper says:

      Dr. Ghoussoub
      You and many of the others who write on this blog have already made up their minds on what the ‘facts’ of the case are, nothing I say will make much difference. In a previous post you talked about adhering to academic values and one of the most important is keeping an open mind. I don’t see much evidence of that among the principal critics who congregate on your web site to express their views and opinions. Their greatest talent seems to be mind-reading. And about mind-reading I can only quote that great social critic and theorist Theodor Adorno on astrology, ‘Well, if you ask me, It’s a racket’.

      I’d been set straight about other minds by an incident that happened at work one day. I was much younger then and not very wise. As a faculty member in an English department where some of my colleagues were political radicals, I was soon enmeshed in the battles that often occur between humanists and university administrators. There was one particular colleague, let’s call him Richard, who once challenged the President of the university (not UBC) in a public meeting by explaining to him what his ‘real’ motives were behind some new policy that the administration was trying to institute. Richard went on and on about motives, what was really going on in the President’s mind. The President, who was no fool, waited patiently for Richard to reach the end of his sermon, and then said something like the following, ‘it’s best not to imagine you know what’s going on in another person’s mind since most of the time you’re probably going to be whistling in the dark. However, there is an explicit policy here that is worth debating, so let’s debate the merits, or not, of the policy not what may or not be going on in my mind. I wouldn’t want to impute motives to you on no evidence at all’. Of course, that did not satisfy Richard. He always thought he knew better no matter what. He was just that kind of man.

      The President’s words, however, resonated with me and for the rest of my academic career, especially in dealing with the institutions in which I worked (including UBC), I kept his words firmly at the center of any discussion about policy. That took a great deal of self-control, because so many of my colleagues in the English departments in which I worked thought they were mind readers of the first order, always knowing what the evil administrators were really, really, really thinking when they proposed this or that measure. My question was always, ‘how do you know’? Why not talk about the policy and leave mind-reading to the fortune tellers in the amusement park? It did not make me very popular with my colleagues. But that’s English department life.

      As for Dr. Gupta’s resignation, you could start by looking at how popular he was with the Faculties when it became very clear in the one year of Dr. Gupta’s tenure that the Faculties and the President were not on the same wavelength when it came to how decision-making (and decisions about budgets) was to be made on the campus. If you seriously think that Dr. Gupta’s background in business suited him to being a facilitator rather than a CEO, then I think you, and your friends, should probably think again.

      JC

  3. Ghoussoub says:

    Dear Dr. Cooper

    1. I am sorry to hear about your experiences with “the radical humanists” of the UBC English department. I can assure you that most of us who follow this blog are hard-core materialists who keep trying to maximize the opportunities for this university.

    2. Unlike what you think, this debate is not really “between humanists and university administrators.” The Gupta affair seems to be all about admin. vs. admin. if you will. One administration chosen through shared governance (alumni, faculty, students, staff, Deans, Board) and mysteriously removed, and a new one chosen by a Board Chair who has now departed. The questions asked are really about what are the modalities to terminate an administration? with cause (hence it should be publicized) or without (then under whose authority?) etc…. Some reporters talked about “a coup”. Let’s face it, aren’t you fascinated by how admin. quarrel with admin. after all these years watching the poor admin. being attacked by nasty humanists?

    3. I don’t think it is fair to say that your colleagues enjoy “mind-reading” so much, when they are asking for answers so that speculation (not only on campus but in every newspaper in the country) and mind-reading cease.

    4. Thanks for the tip “that the Faculties and the President were not on the same wavelength when it came to how decision-making (and decisions about budgets) was to be made on the campus. ” This is the first time we hear such a thing and that’s exactly the kind of truth we are asking for, when we demand transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, this kind of useful information hasn’t been distributed widely. Did the emeriti get a special broadcast email about this?

    5. I don’t understand your position on the issue of academic freedom. You should have been happy that Judge Smith seems to have given credit to the administration by implying that had they been consulted by the non-academic members of the Board, then the intervention with Berdahl would have been avoided. Administrators would have known that an overreaction to concerns regarding institutional racism may be more telling and damaging than the concerns themselves.

    6. Do you have an issue with the Faculty Association trying to protect Jennifer Berdahl from further fallout, and to ensure she could work in a safe environment?

    • John Cooper says:

      Your point 1: Radical humanists in the English Department? The English Department is definitely full of humanists, but radical? I don’t think so.

      Your point 2: I don’t think I said anything about a debate between humanists and administrators. As for Dr. Gupta being ‘mysteriously removed’, I’m not sure this is how I’d characterize his ‘resignation’. And your statement that his ‘administration’ was terminated is surely an exaggeration when it was Dr. Gupta alone who decided to walk away from the job. Your faith in the word of ‘some reporters’ is charming but I’m not sure journalists are to be relied on for their commitment to getting the facts straight. But I suppose I could be wrong. Maybe journalism has changed since my own experience as a reporter many years ago before I heard the call of the academy. You’re right about the problem being limited to relationships in the UBC administration. However, trying to turn Dr. Gupta into a heroic champion of academic freedom, shared governance, and less corporate interference in the University is, in my humble opinion, completely misguided. I believe (and of course I could be wrong) Dr. Gupta is as corporate as they get and what he found at UBC was an administrative structure that gave individual units, the Faculties for example, a little too much power. When it became clear that his top-down CEO style of leadership wasn’t going to get anywhere, he walked away. Let me add that his recent appointment at the University of Toronto is in keeping with that institution’s preferred form of governance.

      Your point 3: About mind-reading: I only mention this because of my experiences as an associate dean in the Faculty of Arts for a number of years. It was the only experience I had as an administrator in my career and it was an eye-opener. Among other things, I was astonished when meeting some faculty members (not most it must be said) who were absolutely sure they knew what was going on in my mind (or the Dean’s mind) before I’d even said anything. Inevitably, as far as they were concerned, what was going on there were secret machinations to enslave the faculty in the interests of goodness knows who. Let me repeat, this was not the majority of faculty members I met in my time in the Dean’s office. The vast majority were great people who were doing all they could to maximize the opportunities of the Faculty and the University. Just a minority were convinced mind-readers, some of whom have intervened in the current controversy.

      Your point 4: The emeritus faculty did not get any special information. I’m speaking from my knowledge of the administrative structure of the University and my one encounter with Dr. Gupta last summer when I was visiting the campus. I live in Athens, Greece most of the time so am not around very often. I wondered to myself after my conversation with the former President how his leadership style was ever going to get the support of the whole University community. I certainly wasn’t surprised when he decided to resign.

      Your points 5 and 6: Professor Berdahl doesn’t need any special protection. She’s already got all the protection she needs. Let’s not exaggerate what happened. Tenured faculty members are a privileged elite in our society. I’m not sure they’re “serfs” or downtrodden as I seem to remember you saying in one of your previous posts. I’m sure you were only being witty. Possibly sessional lecturers are downtrodden and treated like serfs, but certainly not tenured professors. And as for Professor Berdahl’s need for a ‘safe environment’, I’m not sure there are any safer environments in this country than being a tenured full professor in a university business school. Have you ever heard the expression ‘first world problem’?

      Thanks for taking my comments seriously enough to engage with them, but I think I understand your position and have had an opportunity to explain mine. Thanks for having a forum for the exchange of views.

  4. Bill Unruh says:

    I am confused by John C’s comments. I will address this to him.
    You say that
    “As for Dr. Gupta’s resignation, you could start by looking at how popular he was with the Faculties when it became very clear in the one year of Dr. Gupta’s tenure that the Faculties and the President were not on the same wavelength when it came to how decision-making (and decisions about budgets) was to be made on the campus.”

    As a member of one of the Faculties of this University, I have no idea what you are saying. For me it was too early to say how he would be, and I have no knowledge of “how decision making (and decisions about budgets) were to be made.” and thus your motive attribution certainly does not apply to me. Or by “Faculties” did you mean “deans”? They are not the same thing. As Rabi said to Eisenhower when the latter was President of Columbia U, “We are the University”. We, the faculty (amongst others), are the Faculties.

    And you say that Gupta “walked away”. Do you know this for a fact? It looks to me much more like a palace coup, from your comments, apparently led by the deans, or some of the deans, with the “resignation” being forced. If it was as straightforward as you say, why are there all of the non-disclosure agreements on all sides, and a year’s sabbatical with pay for Gupta? Usually when someone walks away, they are not then paid a year’s salary. Those sound much more like both sides (or whichever side forced those agreements) have something to hide, other than a disagreement on administrative direction for the University.

    You warn about not reading minds, but your post appears to be full of just that– reading both Gupta’s and “the Faculties” minds. You also seem to be reading the minds of people like Ghoussoub, Berdahl, etc. in stating that they have made up their minds and are just defending foregone conclusions. Motes, beams?

    If you have facts, please let us know. One of the problems is precisely that we are starved of facts.

  5. John Cooper says:

    “And you say that Gupta “walked away”. Do you know this for a fact? It looks to me much more like a palace coup, from your comments, apparently led by the deans, or some of the deans, with the “resignation” being forced.”

    The FACT is that Dr. Gupta “resigned”, this means to me he “walked away” from the post. I have no knowledge of the financial arrangements made by the parties, nor do I care. Speculation about “palace coups” and “forced resignations” because of a cabal of deans is, just that, speculation. I also know for a FACT that the governance structure at UBC gives Faculties, the deans and associate deans, a good deal of power over their own affairs, including making decisions about their budgets. This is at it should be (in my opinion of course), but it is also how the University administrative structures have evolved over the last hundred years. In my one conversation with Dr. Gupta, he struck me as a centralizer, a CEO-type. I’m not saying my subjective reaction to him is a FACT, but I did wonder, if that were true, how that might sit with the deans who had to deal with him. So, when he resigned I wasn’t that surprised. But I’m just repeating myself here. If you prefer to think that he was forced to resign or that I misread his management style, that’s fine with me.

    Anyway, I’ve had my say. If you think I speak rubbish, just dismiss it.

  6. Dr. Cooper states that after one encounter with Dr. Gupta, he wondered to himself “how his leadership style was ever going to get the support of the whole University community.” Later he clarified that he meant the deans. In my post that caused such an unexpected and strong reaction, I too suggested that Dr. Gupta’s leadership style, which I had had many opportunities to observe, did not fit with that of other UBC leadership. For example, I witnessed an administrator ridicule Dr. Gupta behind his back in front of the faculty early into Dr. Gupta’s term. So on that misalignment we seem to agree; the nature and reason for it, perhaps not.

    It is true that full professors are about as protected as it gets. Full professors’ — even presidents’ — professional lives can still be made hellish through undermining, bullying, and isolation, however. This is unfortunately done systematically more to women and minorities, marginalizing and driving them out of the academy. My own research has shown this. This sends an especially chilling message to those without such protections of tenure about what the consequences might be if they challenge the status quo. If we full professors don’t stand up for the freedom of academic speech without retaliation, who will?

  7. Enrico says:

    “professional lives can still be made hellish through undermining, bullying, and isolation, however. This is unfortunately done systematically more to women and minorities, marginalizing and driving them out of the academy. My own research has shown this. This sends an especially chilling message to those without such protections of tenure about what the consequences might be if they challenge the status quo”

    Above is very true, I personally know of this happening to Clinical Assistant Profs. without the protection of FA and on yearly contracts. Contract simply not renewed is their favorite line.

    This systemic problem has been raised to Senior Administrators (Dept Head, executive directors, Dean, VP Equity, HR director, University Counsel, VP Provost, Presidents, BOG,) in the end the the “Mob” end up “targeting” the “Whistle-blower” and all UBC policies have no teeth as UBC has bottomless legal fees, and they protect the University and their Senior Administrators, who seem to have no accountability for any wrong doing.

    Worst of all, the MOB end up assassinating your Academic Career,

  8. Exchanges like this leave me so baffled. How is an ordinary faculty member supposed even to know how Gupta was viewed by the Deans or why he was so viewed? From where I sat (as Head of my Dept at the time) Gupta seemed every bit as good a President as our other recent ones and every bit as in command. So, my pleas for information in this matter have always been based on two things:

    1. Faculty members who actually care about the institution cannot figure out what this means for institutional priorities/culture; and
    2. the BoG is bound by the BC University Act to work in the best interest as they understand it of the University and I’d like to know how they figure that their actions are in the best interest of the University in this matter. (On the face of it, those actions are not in the best interest of the University unless Gupta was [and again I have no evidence one way or the other] a terrible President.) That we are reduced to speculation indicates how disvalued we as faculty members are by our own University.

    Excellent comments from Bill Unruh. Don’t confuse the Deans with the Faculties. We are not a monarchy. If Rabi can say this to Eisenhower (!), we can surely say this to whoever is chair of the BoG these days.

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