“This leaves me asking whether, as a faculty member, I am a “serf”—one of the humble toiling masses—whose opinion is unimportant, or who is deemed too primitive to engage in an informed dialogue about the course of the university’s future.” That’s what one senior colleague wrote after the announcement of the sudden departure of Arvind Gupta from the UBC presidency. But there are now signs that the faculty at UBC want to claim their university back. The presidential search process is a first and important step in that direction.
There are thirteen candidates for the two spots on the presidential search committee available for the faculty at UBC-Vancouver. Among the candidates I know, many would be great choices to advance faculty perspectives in this search process. Unfortunately, I also see that some candidates would not. It suffices to say that the Board and the Deans will have plenty of representation on the committee, not to mention Associate Deans that will probably squeeze in through the senates. Considering how “divided” our campus is, after the series of calamities that hit UBC lately, I believe that faculty representation needs exceptionally strong voices.
Colleagues who share this common desire of advancing decency, integrity, professionalism, and a genuine adherence to academic values through the leadership search, will have many great candidates to choose from. Of those I know, I can easily pick Jehannine Austin, Jennifer Berdahl, David Kirkpatrick, Alan Richardson, Mark MacLachlan, and Margot Young, all of whom have weighed in on the current UBC crisis and played a vocal role in asking for transparency, accountability, and for a stricter adherence to the basic principles of academic freedom and shared governance.
However, splitting our votes may be counterproductive and will allow the current governing class to have even more representation at the expense of the very few spots reserved to the rank-and-file faculty. I am therefore advocating that votes be focused on only two of the candidates, namely Jennifer Berdahl and Margot Young. Here is why.
One of the revelations emanating from events surrounding the sudden end of the Gupta presidency was the clear disenfranchisement of the faculty from any input into UBC governance and leadership. Even the 3 faculty representatives on the Board were nowhere to be seen, or heard from, throughout this painful period of UBC’s history. Yet, the president is the ultimate representative of the academic branch of the institution. He is chosen by all university stakeholders to be accountable to all of them. Yet, the mysterious exit of the president was handled as if he was merely an employee working at the discretion of a few members of the Board, and not as a powerful academic symbol for both faculty and students.
In my opinion, no one has contributed more lately to restoring the role and the views of the faculty on questions of leadership, academic values and governance than Jennifer Berdahl and the Faculty Association, which is represented in this election by Margot Young. Besides their courageous and principled stands at this important juncture, both are amply qualified for the task of selecting the next UBC president. Indeed, Jennifer’s research addresses leadership, power, and status dynamics in groups and in organizations. Margot’s research has also involved community organizations, at times in conjunction with UBC’s Learning Exchange. Both would be strong voices to advance faculty perspectives in this search process.