For UBC faculty, the malaise persists

It is amazing what a couple of investment bankers can do to a university! Thirty months after the highjacking of UBC’s governance and processes by government appointed Board members, the faculty are still feeling the angst. But so does the administration. In March 2016 and in an unprecedented act, 800 faculty members voted non-confidence in the UBC Board of Governors. The Chancellor, a retired banker, remained. In a poll executed earlier that year by the Faculty Association, 642 out of 885 respondents said they had no confidence in the Chancellor leading the presidential search. He remained. Subsequently, an elected representative of the Vancouver faculty resigned her position from that committee citing “manipulation of information and processes to achieve desired decisions and to minimize academic voices.” He remained. Last week, another elected representative of the Vancouver faculty resigned her position on the Board of Governors. The Chancellor remains.

The law of the University of Lotus Land seems to be: “Toe the line or expect to be sidelined and marginalized.” And marginalized our erudite, principled and courageous UBC-V faculty representatives have been.

A few months ago, the VP-Finance disappeared without a trace: An act of the Board, they say.

The new president, who could have been hugely empowered by the stand of the faculty against arrogance, arbitrariness and power hungry Board members, seems to think that undergraduate students and fraternities could be “his power base” — not the faculty. How wrong he is.

The all-powerful Secretary of the Board, the political engineer-in-residence, is gone. But is she really?

One silver lining though: Colleagues, who religiously practiced deference to authority before, are now publicly exchanging tales, jokes and queries about the newly established UBC brand and logo police. That’s how it starts.

Mark Mac Lean was the president of the UBC Faculty Association during the early days of this tumultuous period. He took the lead in requesting governance reform. Easier requested than done. Stuart Belkin came, promised, and went … He never conquered.

So much more to say. For now, here is the take of Mark on the current state of affairs.

UBC’s Board of Governors and the Faculty

by Professor Mark Thomson Mac Lean, UBC

Two years ago I stood before UBC’s Board of Governors after months of their refusal to discuss with me the crises that had arisen at UBC. What changed their minds about meeting was the fact that my faculty colleagues had passed a vote of no confidence in the Board.

I received lots of advice before going into that meeting. I chose an approach that was intended to respect the Board members’ integrity and to assume that they desired to act in the best interests of the university. I was looking for a detente as the first step towards change for the better, but ultimately I knew change had to come from the Board itself.

It was clear that some members of the Board (and the Board Secretary) expected me to come forward and attack, armed with the extraordinary backing of the faculty.  I could not imagine most of the faculty wanting me to do that, and my own integrity and honour did not incline me to attack. Instead, I had what most present felt was a productive, reasoned discussion with the Board about a wide range of faculty concerns.

Since that April 2016 meeting, the Board has struggled to respond to the concerns presented to it by the faculty. Some easy steps were taken — broadcasting Board meetings, posting agendas, documents, and minutes in a timely fashion, etc. — but some of the most fundamental changes the faculty felt needed to happen are still in process (I say, hopefully) and yet to be completed. Some Board members (e.g. Celeste Haldane, Chair of the Governance Committee) have taken their responsibility to respond to faculty concerns seriously and brought forward new policy. Others seem to resist.

I spoke that day about the critical need for the Board members to understand the roles of the faculty in the university. It is the faculty who are at the heart of the university in a very deep and lasting way.  There is no UBC without its faculty, though some Board members continue to act as if they believe otherwise.  Of greater concern, the UBC Vancouver faculty representatives on the Board have been excluded from the Executive Committee of the Board, which is perhaps its most important committee given its oversight activities and decisions taken between Board meetings.  Such an exclusion highlights the fact that UBC Vancouver faculty representatives have been ostracized from the Board in ways that limit their influence over the core behind-the-scenes work of the Board.

The UBC faculty could not ask for more dedicated, intelligent, thoughtful, and scholarly representation than they have had from our two Vancouver faculty representatives. Thus, beyond the fact that both Dr. Menzies and Dr. Chaudhry will speak frankly to issues (isn’t that their job on a university board?), it is not clear to me why they have been effectively excluded from taking full roles on the Board.  They come to the Board with the full weight of their faculty colleagues behind them, so the exclusions have not been not personal, but in effect have been a systematic removal of the Vancouver faculty voice from core functions of the Board.

There are two individuals who could change the Board’s relationship with UBC Vancouver faculty members. The first is the Board Chair, Mr. Korenberg, who has a responsibility to see that the Board is functioning cohesively, and not as a systemically factionalized body.  The second is President Ono, who as the most senior academic leader on the Board, has the influence to support having the full faculty voice centrally present in all Board decisions. Real changes would require them both to act, but will they?

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