The Latest Attack on Academic Freedom in Canada: McGill Turns Away from Controversy and Provocation

By Alan Richardson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia


“While the Institute itself is non-partisan, MISC is no stranger to debate and controversy.”—

“It is not a role to provoke, but to promote good discussion.”—McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier as quoted in The Globe and Mail

McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier has spoken out in defense of her actions in accepting the resignation of Andrew Potter from his post as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC). She emphasizes on the responsibility of the leaders of academic units to represent those units. In particular, she maintains that the Institute must be non-partisan. However, she finds that in writing the Maclean’s article as director of the Institute Potter violated non-partisanship and, thus, poorly represented the Institute. His op-ed was, she claims, provocative and would lead political leaders not to wish to come to Institute events. She also claims that the scholarship was shoddy and…

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The Fall of the Faculty: A Case Study of University Governance at UBC

This post expands on a talk I gave at a Conference on University Governance in the 21st century, which was held in Vancouver on March 3-4. My session was concerned with: Duty to Whom? Institutional Loyalty and Collegial Governance, which will be the subject of my next post. In this first part, I show how university governance as practiced at UBC is used to marginalize the faculty. Almost a year has passed since 800 faculty members at UBC voted non-confidence in the actions of the Board of Governors. Reforms, promised then by the Chair of the Board, Stuart Belkin, are yet to be announced, let alone implemented. The Board secretariat remains intact, its controversial ways resisting and stalling FOI requests by the Faculty Association and others, unchanged. The Chancellor is still in place, unmoved by a humiliating vote of non-confidence in his chairing of the presidential search committee. Many of the governors are still around, oblivious of their responsibilities in one of the darkest moments in UBC’s history.

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Salient points of Daniel Heath Justice’s letter of resignation from the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee in response to Furlong’s reinstatement


Dear Professor Ono,

I read with dismay the announcement yesterday that John Furlong has been reinstated as a UBC fundraising speaker. … There were many responsible and compassionate ways this matter might have been handled that would not have once again silenced or erased the abuse allegations of dozens of people from the Lake Babine First Nation — some of whom I understand have contacted your office and have received no response — but the result of UBC’s press releases has been to do precisely that, and to once again undermine the hard work that so many of us have undertaken at this university to do ethical, accountable work in relationship with Indigenous communities.

Given these events, I am sad to say that I cannot continue to serve with integrity on the UBC Sexual Assault Policy Committee. It is impossible to do so given that the Committee’s good work has…

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Shaking up the UBC Board of Governors

Month after month of bad press in local and national media outlets didn’t do it. Petition after petition asking for transparency and accountability from the governors and the managerial class didn’t do it. Eight hundred faculty members voting non-confidence in the Board of Governors didn’t do it. And the jury is still out on whether even a new president with a reportedly rock star status and a de-facto strengthened mandate can do it. But we still see one glitter of hope for our university. Continue reading

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Interview with a mathematician: Nassif Ghoussoub

In this interview, Anthony Bonato got me to reveal quite a bit about my background, my path to mathematics, my role in founding the Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS), the MITACS Network of Centres of Excellence, and the Banff International Research Station (BIRS), my years on the UBC Board of Governors, my position on Arvind Gupta’s “mandatus interruptus,” my impressions on UBC president Santa Ono’s first steps, as well as my take on social media, and the future of Mathematical research. A bit long, but hopefully not very boring.

The Intrepid Mathematician

Nassif Ghoussoub is the founder and current director of the Banff International Research Station, the founding director of the Pacific Institute of Mathematics, and the co-founder of MITACS NCE. On top of all that, he is an award-winning mathematician, whose most recent work focuses on differential equations and mass transport theory.


I met Nassif when he was Scientific Director of MPrime NCE. My first impression of him was that he was amiable, laser sharp, and a natural leader. I’ve read his blog Piece of Mindfor years, where he posts refreshingly blunt (but fair) views on the academy.

Nassif was recently inducted into the Order of Canada, which is an honour he very highly deserves. I think we should all be proud as Canadians to have a mathematician of his stature represent us in Ottawa and on the world stage.

During the interview, Nassif was warm and open. I find the way Nassif talks about mathematics and…

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About Naylor’s panel roundtable regarding Big Science in a Canadian Context

For those not paying attention, David Naylor is leading “Canada’s Fundamental Science Review Panel” which is looking at the state of fundamental science in Canada. Last week, I had a chance to participate at a roundtable of experts in Calgary, where the consultation was about Big and Expensive Science infrastructure. Being director of a big but relatively cheap science research infrastructure, I wondered first whether I really belonged to that club. Indeed, other participants included directors of Canada’s landmark mega-projects: Triumf, SNOLAB, Canadian light source, Compute Canada, the Thirty-Meter Telescope, etc. Revealing on Twitter where I was and with whom, solicited this tweet from a colleague: “That’s like inviting the big 5 banks to a meeting on interest rates & ATM fees!” In fairness it wasn’t that bad, though the consultation could have benefited from a few more independent observers of big Canadian Science. I considered myself one of those – one panelist confided that I was invited because I’m known to speak my mind. But, in spite of valiant efforts by Art MacDonald who was chairing, the format was not conducive to speaking minds and extensive analysis, hence, this post.

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Research funding of Mathematics and Statistics in Canada

A submission from the NSERC Mathematics and Statistics Liaison group, to the Review of Federal Support to Research and Development, on research funding of mathematics and statistics in Canada.

1. Mathematics and Statistics in our research system; revolution, or a golden age

To the non-initiate, mathematics might seem frozen in time, rehashing the glories of earlier centuries. Nothing could be further from the truth. The last twenty years have seen a veritable explosion of results, as new horizons have opened. Centuries-old conjectures such as Fermat’s or Poincaré’s have been proven, and not just by seeing something long overlooked; on the contrary, the proofs have come through veritable revolutions, fundamental rebuilding of the mathematical arsenal, which are now having vast impacts way beyond their original application. These are exciting times; the reader might with profit, albeit at the expense of some time, consult the excellent “The Mathematical Sciences in 2025”, prepared for the US National Research Council.

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