When the Walls of Governance Come Crumbling Down

“We are deeply disappointed that Janis Sarra has had to step down as Director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies … Like her, we will all work to secure the academic independence of the Institute and its programs, and to reform its governance.” That was May 2014, and the open letter was signed by 16 UBC distinguished scholars associated in one way or another to the institute. Fast forward to November 2018, and we learn again that the Director of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies (PWIAS), Philippe Tortell, resigned in protest over the actions of the Institute Trustees, who have taken control of the strategic planning process and re-directed a large portion of Institute funding to support on-going research activities controlled by the central administration. The reaction was even more pronounced this time around. The actions that led to the resignation have sparked vigorous debate across campus, re-igniting concerns over academic governance, centrally directed research, ethics of philanthropy, management of conflict of interest, and administrative over-reach.

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Why I am voting against the tuition increases for domestic students

During my previous two terms on the UBC Board of Governors from 2008 to 2014, I always voted in support of the administration’s maximum government-allowable 2% increases in tuition fees for domestic students. But things are different this time.

The substantial hikes in international tuition fees implemented in 2015, and the ensuing dramatic increases in the number of international students, have led to a remarkable 44% increase in tuition and student fees revenue for UBC. It is time to use this windfall of resources to alleviate the financial burden on the people of British Columbia, who have been investing for decades directly and indirectly in their flagship institution.

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Resignation of the director of the Wall Institute: The reaction

The Board of Trustees of the Wall Institute is trying to reach out to a revolted UBC community by announcing a one-year moratorium on the changes they had dictated, only a week ago, to Director Philippe Tortell. This had led to his resignation in a – worth listening to- fiery speech in front of most heads of units at UBC. President Santa Ono did not, however, address the institute’s future beyond next year, though he committed that the (unchanged and apparently conflicted) five-person board would consult with members of the UBC community on future decisions. In the meantime, Philippe Tortell received tons of correspondence (comments, supportive messages, copies of letters to Ono) and “Piece of Mind” got several requests from faculty to post their opinions and letters about this matter. They are informative and we think worth posting even anonymously for practical reasons. The “listening tour” of the Board of Trustees can surely start with a stop here.

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Why I am resigning from the directorship of the Wall institute

By Professor Philippe Tortell

Universities are places where imagination and unconstrained thinking converge to produce major advancements in fundamental knowledge.  Intellectual breakthroughs hide in unusual places, and often appear when they are most unexpected.  For this reason, the University must be a bastion of curiosity-driven fundamental research, where great minds freely explore new intellectual horizons through unfettered and unscripted work.

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Accountability and Governance at UBC: Budget

By Professor Mark Thomson Mac Lean

Over the past months I have become increasingly concerned about the disparity between UBC’s growing tuition revenues and enormous budget surpluses, and the struggles that many academic departments face in meeting their teaching and research missions. Conversations with colleagues and student leaders across campus tell me that I am not alone in having such concerns.

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NSERC corrects a mistake, but many remain unaddressed

No, I am not talking about the sudden and probably more consequential recent change in NSERC’s leadership, but about an accounting mistake. Yes, it looks minor, but it speaks volume. As I mentioned in a previous post, I resigned last May from a committee that was supposed to liaise between NSERC and Canada’s Mathematics and Statistics communities (The MSLC-see below). I described vaguely the reasons why: An unsettling lack of transparency, shoddy consultation, and poor decision-making by NSERC’s management in handling recent government budget increases. Last week-end, I learned that NSERC did address and partially fix the way they handled the 2014 and 2016 government increases, but we remain a long way from accountability and redress. Let me explain.

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Is the BIRS programme multiple disciplinary enough for NSERC?

The programs of the Banff International Research Station (BIRS) in Banff and Oaxaca are supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), Canada’s Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Mexico’s Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACyT),  and the Alberta Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. In 2003, NSERC’s funding for BIRS was on par with its two partners then, covering 33% of the station’s inaugural budget. Fast forward to 2018 to see NSERC’s current funding for BIRS being the lowest among the four partnering governments – at 22% of the total budget. How did we get here?

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