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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Calling on #UBC to step up and support our alumni Loujain Al-Hathloul (Arts, 2014)

29 May 2018

Lindsay Gordon, Chancellor, UBC
Santa J, Ono, President and vice-Chancellor, UBC

Dear Mr Gordon and Dr Ono:

“Pursuing excellence in research, learning and engagement to foster global citizenship and advance a sustainable and just society across British Columbia, Canada and the world.” – UBC’s purpose per Shaping UBC’s Next Century: Strategic Plan, 2018-2028

A UBC alumna, Loujain Al-Hathloul (Arts, 2014), has been detained without clear charges and without ability to contact her family in Saudi Arabia.  Ms Al-Hathloul is a well-known human rights activist in Saudi Arabia. The nature and timing of her detention strongly suggest that it is part of a crackdown on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled by the following official response to a request that UBC comment on Ms Al-Hathloul’s detention:

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Reboot NSERC by engaging and empowering the researchers it serves

I described in a previous post some of the impediments to NSERC’s ability to optimize government’s investments in support of scientific research and innovation. Namely, how its rigid and insular operational structure hinders its capabilities to partner internationally; to coordinate nationally; to operate coherently and inclusively; to collaborate, leverage its federal resources, and multiply research opportunities; to adapt to the ascendance of interdisciplinary research, and to knowledgeably and confidently address emerging areas of research. To metamorphose NSERC from its current state of a reactive and unimaginative funnel of government money, to a pro-active and nimble organization that can multiply it and optimize its use, there is one simple solution.

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President Arvind Gupta on the essence of the academic mission…and an endorsement

Commentaria

By Professor Arvind Gupta

Dear colleagues,

As many of you are aware, there is a by-election for a faculty representative to the Board of Governors. This is an important election for UBC Vancouver faculty, and I feel compelled to send this message, given what has been happening at UBC over the past few years. I have been dismayed to witness disregard (and at times attacks) on our most fundamental values: the very essence of our academic mission, and the collegial governance and academic freedom required to fulfill it. We, the faculty, have long argued that these values are necessary for the free and unhindered pursuit of knowledge and discovery, for preserving a culture of openness and transparency, for upholding the rights of the underrepresented, protecting the vulnerable, and for speaking out against injustice of any form. Any undermining of these values is felt, not just within our institution, but more broadly across society.

I believe…

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Why am I running again to represent the faculty on UBC’s Board of Governors?

A good question indeed. My official statement below (restricted to 250 words) tells a part of the story but not all. I was personally stunned, upon rereading it, by how many times I call for “refocusing, re-establishing, reversing, returning, recovering …” An unintended illustration of how, long-held assumptions about the values of our academic mission, have been in full retreat. And, we the faculty, are merely trying to recover some of what we used to take for granted even less than 20 years ago.

Another part of the story goes back to my post of October 2015, i.e., before we even knew more through the unintended leaks. Much damage has been done to our institution, and this needs to stop. It gets to be even more urgent to do so, when remnants of those responsible come to epitomize, including through their candidacy statement, the continuing lack of transparency, the waste of university resources, the conceit, and the arrogance of someone who has been “an admin. groupie” for too long.

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