Drs. Darrin Lehman, Richard Johnston, and Michael Treschow were elected to the UBC Board of Governors by the faculty to represent the best interests of the university. As such, they are expected to believe in, support, and protect the core academic values of our institution. Other Governors look to them to bring to the Board table knowledge and expertise in academic practices and traditions. It is they who are supposed to articulate the principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the role of faculty in this partnership. It is their role to communicate to the broader faculty community the impact of Board decisions on core academic matters in a spirit of transparency and accountability. In all this they have failed the university and they have failed the faculty.
As acting President Martha Piper inferred yesterday in the Vancouver Sun, society at large, hence externally appointed governors, may need the university’s help in comprehending fundamental notions such as academic freedom and shared governance, and why these values are at the core of building a community of scholars. However, faculty members and in particular their representatives on the Board, are expected to live and die by these basic academic principles and must play a role in ensuring that all governors don’t go wayward. The latest events involving the UBC Board show that they are failing in their duty of upholding these values.
In one important segment of her report, Judge Smith writes: “In the short period just after the resignation of President Gupta, Mr. Montalbano and Chancellor Lindsay Gordon worked with UBC staff [ ] without bringing in the academic leadership of The University.” The faculty representatives on the Board are an integral part of the academic leadership. Their total absence during these moments of crisis contributed to the void in academic oversight, which led to the unfortunate events that followed. By failing to take initiative and assume leadership, they have failed the university.
Dr. Berdahl’s revelations about the interference with her scholarly work presented a key opportunity to the faculty representatives on the Board to stand-up for their colleague and her academic rights. If, at the hastily convened not-so-secret Board meeting, the other governors were not convinced that this was a major concern, or that it was merely a PR issue, they should have walked out in protest. Instead, the then interim acting president announced that the full Board was in support of Mr. Montalbano’s position and his continued chairmanship. Why? Did the faculty representatives really need the fact-finding mission of Judge Smith to understand the seriousness of the actions and omissions of the chair of the Board, the Chancellor, and certain administrators? Even after the publication of Judge Smith’s report, we are told that the Board of Governors has asked Mr. Montalbano to resume his chairmanship. By seemingly backing an untenable status quo at this critical juncture for our university, they are failing us.
And they continue to fail us by not echoing the Faculty Association, let alone leading the charge, in demanding that the university publicly apologizes to Dr. Berdahl. They do so by not assuming leadership in ensuring she has a safe and welcoming work environment. They fail us by not speaking out when Judge Smith states that “the university” did not protect Prof. Berdahl yet no individual is responsible. How can they not demand that those in leadership or otherwise be held responsible for violating our most cherished principle? And how can they stand by idly while the administration blatantly states that Dr. Berdahl’s academic freedom was not infringed, in direct contravention of the Smith report. With their silence, they have failed us.
Behind all of this are also questions about the role of the faculty representatives on the Board in the sudden ending of the Arvind Gupta presidency. These three colleagues surely must have anticipated the fall-out of a sudden, unexplained, and ultimately embarrassing departure of a president. Have they warned the non-academic governors about the loss of momentum and the reputational damage to the institution? Couldn’t they have foreseen the prolonged period of unstable, incoherent, and unfocused management, the tip of which we are seeing now? Surely they would have understood the disrepute that such actions would bring to their university in the eyes of the provincial government and the broader worldwide academic community. Instead, they apparently stood still, and by doing so, they failed their university.
Did they make sure that proper governance was followed? Did they stand for due process, seek input, request a review or at least a debrief of President Gupta about the reasons behind his exit, before this catastrophic turn of events? They should have –just like colleagues on Senate (see agenda of next meeting)– rejected outright the non-disclosure arrangement with President Gupta, regardless of who was imposing it. By not making a public stand for transparency and accountability, they failed the university.
As the fall-out continues, as the Board of Governors continues to reject the Faculty Association’s request for accountability in President Gupta’s resignation, and as the university tramples on collegial governance, our three colleagues on the Board continue to stay quiet and sit on their hands. By their actions and inactions, by their silence, by their lack of leadership, and by their apparent unwillingness to protect and promote the core values of our institution, these three governors have shown they are incapable or unwilling to carry out on behalf of the faculty, their mandate on the Board in the best interest of the university.