Thank you Chair Montalbano and Chancellor Gordon: UBC couldn’t have done it without you

“I think governance is always expressive of the gang that are there doing it at any one point in time.” With this statement, Stuart Belkin seems to be distancing himself from the practices of former Chair, John Montalbano, Chancellor Lindsay Gordon, and the Board members who supported them, actively or not, in the ouster of former President Gupta. Eight months into this ever-intensifying debate, we say it is time to solemnly declare our deep gratitude to this “gang.” For without them, we probably wouldn’t have had this debate, and surely not on so many sensitive issues relevant to the future of our university. Thanks to them, the UBC centennial will enter the history books as the year when the faculty woke up to their power and responsibilities.

It’s been noted that President Gupta was determined to refocus the university on the academic mission, re-establish the faculty as the cornerstone of the academy, reform governance to reflect that, connect further UBC’s two campuses, break siloes separating faculty and administrators, reprioritize capital projects to address the needs of research and teaching, re-evaluate even rescind past financial commitments to non-academic projects, reverse administrative bloat to restore teaching capacity, and last but not least, provide some academic focus to a drifting UBC Properties Trust.

Thanks to you, Chair Montalbano and Chancellor Gordon, future presidents will know that they can never accomplish all that alone. They will also know that they can now count on a faculty body that, by your very actions, has been made aware of these issues, of their responsibilities to address them, and of their power to do so. UBC may now have a chance to go back to its core mission.

The faculty are now well aware of the University Act, and of how it can be misused and abused. They know enough to be grateful to whoever inadvertently alerted them to the weakest links in our university governance, those that can be manipulated or thwarted by the few.

And you may have helped us open a door for introducing academic oversight of the UBC Properties Trust and of IMANT, whereas I had failed to open even a crack during my six years on the Board. Faculty representation on their respective Boards may be the only way to ensure they are also aligned with the academic mission, and that academic voices are heard and made to count, be it on land development for faculty/staff housing, or on divestment from fossil fuels.

By unwisely conducting university business through the safe haven of your banking institution’s servers, you have brought to the forefront issues of transparency and accountability that our university owes to the public and to the BC residents who fund it. UBC may start taking more seriously its obligations to abide by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The BC taxpayer now expects it.

Your unprecedented actions and those of some of your Board colleagues, should motivate the provincial government to better vet Board members for their integrity, their competence and diversity, regardless of the size of their bank accounts and donations to political campaigns.

The crisis you triggered made the faculty aware of how out of touch and irrelevant our Senates have been, how wrong it is that they are stacked with administrators, and how important it is to make them tackle weighty issues. For the Senates ought to serve as a necessary check and balance to actions of the Board, such as those you have undertaken.

Thank you, Mr. Montalbano, for that Sunday morning call to our colleague and your communications about her with the Dean’s office of the Sauder School of Business, for it reminded the world academic community of how precious academic freedom is, and how we must safeguard it at all times.

You have opened our eyes –-if only indirectly– to the scourge of institutional racism on our campuses, for this renewed awareness will make it easier to expose and fight.

Even the newspaper articles and petitions that claimed to support your actions and the status quo, have contributed to the awareness of the rank-and-file of the myriad of special interests, personal relations, and political connections that may have triggered the crisis, including the unprecedented act of toppling a president.

Your actions provided an opportunity to the Faculty Association to step up and assert the position of the faculty as the heart, soul and conscience of our university. For the institutional crisis you have triggered, has led to a record number of engaged faculty, willing to speak up, write, blog, tweet, and run for the FA, Senate, and Board.

And needless to say, you should be thanked profusely, if and when your actions ultimately lead to the long overdue evaluation of the role of the Board Secretariat in this massive governance failure.

Stuart Belkin has now called for a forum on governance to be held during next week’s Board meeting. Another reason to be thankful to Misters Montalbano and Gordon for this historic opportunity to enact substantive reforms.  An independent review of the events that led to the departure of the president and the aftermath, is a must, even when we already know more than we would have wished to know, and the level of our disappointment is already beyond what we can handle.

The calls for the resignation of Lindsay Gordon and “the rest” are totally justified. It is incomprehensible that the elected faculty members of the Board have not yet reacted to the vote of non-confidence by 800 of their colleagues. They may not be concerned about their legacies and their standing in their community. They may be drinking the same denial-inducing Kool-aid as Mr. Steenkamp. But they cannot ignore the historic importance of this moment in time. They ought to join our ranks, and  thank Misters Montalbano and Gordon, for having created ideal conditions for the course correction that our university so badly needed.


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2 Responses to Thank you Chair Montalbano and Chancellor Gordon: UBC couldn’t have done it without you

  1. Peter says:

    Another brilliantly expressed piece. Nassif you speak for so many of us, and I thank you for that.

  2. Prof. Anon says:

    Spot on!!! What is IMANT? After 10+ year at UBC I still never heard this acronym.

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