The Learning & Research of the UBC Board of Governors (II)

(This post is a slightly updated version of an article that appeared on October 10 in The Ubyssey).

On September 12, I resigned from the Chair of the Learning and Research (L&R) Committee of the Board. I chose to do it in an open session because I happen to believe that transparency is key to accountability and therefore most sessions of the Board should be open. As to why I have decided to resign can be summarized in the following three reasons.

First, my main objective as Chair of L&R was accomplished: Learning and Research are certainly back at the core of the Board’s priorities. Through a series of presentations that our committee solicited from the Administration, the VP-A and the VP-R provided detailed appraisals of the state of the academy. Historical and current data on student enrollments, faculty recruitment, and academic capital projects were provided to the Governors, who eventually sounded the alarm as to the current state of academic affairs. We also heard from the Dean of Graduate Studies.

The L&R committee requested an academic renewal plan from the Administration to urgently address the stagnated state of research faculty, which contrasted the huge increase in undergraduate students’ enrollments of the last 10 years. Governors also questioned the relatively low number of graduate students compared to our peer institutions as well as the inadequacy of the financial support available to attract the best of them with guarantees of decent working and living conditions. This eventually led to the establishment of a working group led by the Board chair that includes senators, deans, heads, and students.

I would have preferred -due to the urgency- a swifter action on this front, and a process that respected the delineated roles of the Administration from those of the Board (see below), but what is important for now is that the ball is starting to roll in the right direction towards academic renewal and the enhancement of our graduate program.

Second, my resignation opened the door for Dr. Charles Menzies to take a turn in the chair. Let me be clear and say that Dr. Menzies and I have diametrically opposite views and priorities on many aspects of the university, be it our understandings of the role of excellence in recruitment and tenure, our views on the international vs. local role of UBC, on its prospects for growth vs. retrenchment, on the densification of South campus to accommodate faculty and staff housing vs. a freeze on development, and many other matters. It is my opinion however, that Dr. Menzies has, through his election by the faculty, earned the right and the opportunity to lead the L&R committee according to his own priorities.

The last reason for my resignation is a mixed bag of a partial success and a consequential disappointment. My appointment as Chair of L&R had broken the unfortunate cycle of marginalization of the UBC-V faculty representatives on the Board. Indeed, since their election in 2017, Drs. Chaudhury and Menzies had been denied roles on search committees, working groups, committee chairpersonships, and the Executive of the Board. Not anymore. Had the chair refused to assign me the chairmanship of either the Governance committee (that I had requested) or the L&R committee, I would have followed in the steps of Dr. Chaudhry and resigned immediately right after my election. This did not happen.

Unfortunately, a series of subsequent actions have effectively frustrated my role as Chair of L&R. Never before have we witnessed a Chair of the Board chairing university-wide “working groups” consisting of non-governors and dealing with core academic issues that are the purview of the University Executive.

As much as I agree intellectually with the current Chair on most academic priorities and appreciate his commitment to UBC, I believe that this is a dangerous precedent that contravenes the very basis of good governance. This newly devised modus operandi of the Board also led to the exclusion of certain Governors from participating in, and contributing to, important discussions. The chair of the L&R committee was kept out of all three past and current working groups.

“Membership in working groups is a privilege and not a right,” I was told, hence effectively negating the mandate I was given by the faculty to be their representative “at the table.” So, I chose to use my right to resign from the chair of L&R hoping that, in the best interests of the university, my successor could be awarded the privilege of contributing adequately to shared governance, “comme il se doit”.

Added since its publication in the Ubyssey: In a speech given at UBC-O, the Chair committed to a higher level of transparency and inclusivity in Board governance.  He has also authorized all Governors to participate in the deliberations of all working groups, including the Academic Renewal Working Group (ARWG), and to have access to all related documents and minutes. 

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