A life of mathematics and computation: Jon Borwein

by Anthony Bonato, Department of Mathematics – Ryerson University

The Intrepid Mathematician

There was sad news this week with the passing of Jonathan Borwein on Tuesday, August 2, 2016.

Jon Borwein in his lab at University of Newcastle, Australia.

Jon was a powerhouse mathematician and computer scientist who leaves behind a rich legacy. As a highly awarded scholar, his academic output was staggering: almost five hundred papers, twenty-eight books, and he supervised dozens of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.  His work spanned many areas within mathematics, such as analysis, optimization, financial mathematics, experimental mathematics, and high performance computing. He is also well-known for his work on computing digits of π, and the featured image of this blog is from one of his visualization experiments for that number.

I met Jon when he was Canada Research Chair at Dalhousie University. He was also Director of the Atlantic Association for Research in the Mathematical Sciences (AARMS). I was teaching an AARMS summer school course at Dalhousie, and my first…

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UBC’s new president is not a mathematician, but …

The last time I saw the fabulous Frances Bula, she said that she liked my tweets whenever I commented on mathematics and mathematicians. I think she really meant for me to leave the rest of the news and analysis to her and the pros. However, thanks to Stuart Belkin, I now have a chance to do both. I mention the Chair of the UBC Board because I hear that –fortunately I must say– he is the one in charge these days, including of the presidential search.  The remarkable choice of Santa Ono (yes Santa!) as UBC’s 15th president is nothing but a victory to those among us calling for a renewed spirit of research excellence, academic freedom, diversity, decency, humanity and fair-play among the UBC leadership, be it mid-level and up. Continue reading

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An open letter to Faye Wightman, Chair of the UBC Alumni Board of Directors


From Roger Francois, Professor, Canadian Research Chair, FRSC, UBC Alumni ’87 (PhD)

Dear Ms. Wightman,

I could not attend the meeting of the Board of Governors on April 14th because of a scheduling conflict but owing to the new openness of the board under the leadership of Mr. Belkin, I was able to view the proceedings later that evening. What I saw and heard encouraged me to believe that I was witnessing a new era of earnest dialogue between the various stakeholders of the university. The representatives for UBC students, faculty, and staff raised their cases frankly but respectfully, and the response from the board members conveyed the desire to build bridges and work towards addressing the concerns of the different constituencies of UBC.

It was therefore very unfortunate that this atmosphere of goodwill was partly clouded when you took the stage, although the silence that followed your rather condescending…

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An open letter to Stuart Belkin, Chair, UBC Board of Governors


Re: Ms. Wightman’s presentation at the April 14th meeting of the Board of Governors

From: Prof. Kalina Christoff, Department of Psychology

Dear Mr. Belkin,

As a faculty member at UBC, I was delighted to hear today’s discussions between the Board of Governors and various UBC representatives. It was encouraging to hear your thoughtful responses to each presenter and the engaged questions that a number of Board members asked. I was just starting to feel a pleasant sense of hopefulness and, dare I say, a glimmer of trust in the Board of Governors — when suddenly, a cold bucket of water was poured over my head in the form of Faye Wightman’s presentation.

Ms. Wightman’s tone all but destroyed the atmosphere of respect that was created throughout the preceding 1.5 hours. In the space of 10 short minutes, she managed to gravely insult, disrespect and belittle faculty members and others who have…

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Thank you Chair Montalbano and Chancellor Gordon: UBC couldn’t have done it without you

“I think governance is always expressive of the gang that are there doing it at any one point in time.” With this statement, Stuart Belkin seems to be distancing himself from the practices of former Chair, John Montalbano, Chancellor Lindsay Gordon, and the Board members who supported them, actively or not, in the ouster of former President Gupta. Eight months into this ever-intensifying debate, we say it is time to solemnly declare our deep gratitude to this “gang.” For without them, we probably wouldn’t have had this debate, and surely not on so many sensitive issues relevant to the future of our university. Thanks to them, the UBC centennial will enter the history books as the year when the faculty woke up to their power and responsibilities.

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Handling of conflicts of interest should be high on UBC’s governance reform

Any discussion of governance reform that will move UBC forward, and facilitate the task of the next president, must not only address the procedural irregularities around Gupta’s dismissal, but must also identify those who resisted the former president’s proposed changes and priorities, so that we can learn their reasons, their motives, and the extent of their reach to Board members and other power brokers.

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Why I Lack Confidence in UBC’s Board of Governors: Its Disrespect for Faculty


ByJenniferBerdahl, Montalbano Professor of Leadership Studies, Sauder School of Business

There are many statements by faculty explaining why they lack confidence in the University of British Columbia’s Board of Governors. Our BoG is dominated by political appointees who represent a narrow band of British Columbians: wealthy business people who donate to the Liberal Party. Some of these appointees appear to break tax and FIPPA laws. Our BoG has little faculty voice: compare the 3 on our Board (15%) to the 12 on UofT’s (25%). Our BoG is unique among its peers in not belonging to the Association of Governing Boards, which provides guidelines for best practices in selecting and training board members, managing conflicts of interest, and conducting business in a transparent and accountable way. These structural weaknesses of our Board undermine good governance at UBC.

But for me, it boils down to this: over the last eight months, our BoG has openly disregarded…

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Faculty Awakening has already made a difference

PowerDo not despair, Carla. There is no reason to feel blue. You have not only awoken your faculty friends, you have reminded them that they are the university. You have empowered them again and they appreciate you for it. The “assholes” (as you so aptly call them) may not be listening, but the majority of your colleagues are. Rejoice, the Times They Are A-Changin’.

Only yesterday, the premier of our province announced upcoming legislation to require all BC universities to have sexual assault policies. This was not random. This did not happen after the 2013 pro-rape chants by some UBC Sauder Business School students. This is happening now because you and your colleagues chose to speak up and fight for the victims of sexual harassment and violence, and for adequate processes to protect them.

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Decolonizing our imaginations and building a university that reflects our society

It looks like Stuart Belkin is now a member of the UBC presidential search committee. This could have been a welcome positive gesture to the faculty had he replaced Lindsay Gordon in the Chair. Unfortunately, he seems to have taken the spot of Celeste Haldane, the only aboriginal member of the Board of Governors. Belkin also announced that Ken Fung, the only Chinese-Canadian member of the Board has resigned. No explanations were given. These developments bring back to mind the topic behind the rise and fall of the previous Board Chair last summer. Indeed, John Montalbano had personally objected to Jennifer Berdahl’s now famous blogpost, where she wonders whether Gupta’s departure may be related to diversity issues within UBC’s leadership. Montalbano countered in the press and on the airwaves by relaying a portrait of a positively diverse club of decision makers at UBC. Indira Samarasekera also chimed in into that debate. The distinctly condescending tone of the recently (unintentionally) leaked memo, however, proved offensive to some, especially those on the other side of the cultural fence. In light of these new developments, we decided to probe a bit more into these assertions by reviewing the individuals involved or portrayed therein.

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Standing up to bullies

Canadians everywhere will take a stand against bullying by participating in Pink Shirt Day today (Feb. 24). UBC scholars are helping us define and recognize Bullying. Although they are mostly focused on how to “bully-proof” our children, this unique form of aggression can happen at any age and any level of responsibility. Bullying is not restricted to schoolyards, factories, and prisons. It can affect white collars as much as anyone. Some scholars are now arguing that ostracism is even more damaging than bullying in the workplace, though it is difficult sometimes to see the difference.  An incredible document has surfaced recently. In my opinion, it is textbook material and belongs to every classroom at UBC on this Pink Shirt day. Scholars and students alike should be analyzing it for its tone, its content, its real intent, and its potential impact. Here is a summarized version of this document, which is a memo from someone in a position of power to a subordinate.

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Open Letter to the Elected Members of the UBC Board of Governors

By Professor of Philosophy, Alan Richardson

(Note: I also wrote, but the letter below by Richardson is better.)


“The Board of Governors shall promote a culture of integrity at the University through its own actions, its interaction with senior executives and external parties, and through selection and review of the President.”—UBC Board of Governors Code of Conduct and Ethics

Dear Elected Board Members:

Thank you for taking the time to speak to the UBC community about your votes in favour of accepting the resignation of President Arvind Gupta and your continuing belief, despite subsequent turmoil, that these votes served the best interests of UBC.  I have a few further questions:

In light of the fact that there were some meetings of an unspecified committee of BoG members in the process leading to Gupta’s resignation and that at least some of you were either not aware of these meetings or have now a sense of their impropriety, do you now believe that your judgment as to what was…

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Arvind Gupta was never given a chance: A personal account

This post was published by the Vancouver Sun.

My first reaction to the resignation of UBC president Arvind Gupta was relief – Arvind’s nightmare was finally over. He could go back to what he does best: work to make this country better without the shackles and the indignities he endured over his 13-month presidency. My own moments of resignation didn’t last long. A few days later, I learned of the Jennifer Berdahl story and decided that UBC had seen enough hurt. The latest leaks have now brought to light an unacceptable level of ad-hoc, ruthless, and possibly illegitimate actions occurring at the highest levels of our flagship university. I will try to reconcile what they reveal with what I experienced first-hand.

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Dean Marc Parlange weighs in on president Gupta’s “resignation”

In a letter to the Faculty of Applied Science at UBC, Dean Marc Parlange made some of his views known as to the complex — and confidential — resignation decision of former President Arvind Gupta,” while throwing his support behind Chancellor Lindsay Gordon and others in the current UBC administration. The Dean seems to be unaware of what the leaks have revealed about the so-called “resignation” and how “confidentiality” had been handled by some in the UBC administration. He seems, however, conscious of the ongoing campus protests, the Faculty Association’s in-depth analysis of the situation, and the AMS principled statement. He wrote, “I have been less impressed, however, with some recent developments elsewhere within the university community regarding this same matter”. What’s remarkable is how dismissive the Dean seems to be of the concerns of the faculty and students, whose associations are calling for transparency and accountability at UBC. Questions are already being raised about the link between the Dean’s statement and the groundswell support for the petition advocating a vote of non-confidence in the Board of Governors. The Dean’s message also coincides with recently published articles inquiring about the role of Deans and mid-level management in the current crisis.    

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The students join the faculty in requesting a judicial review of the UBC Board of Governors

In a major reversal of past positions vis-a-vis president Gupta’s departure from UBC, the Student Society of UBC-Vancouver issued a public statement expressing disappointment in the process followed by the Board of Governors as revealed by the recent leaks. The AMS urges “the incoming Chair of the Board of Governors to instigate an external review process into governance practices,” and asks the Board “to delay approving any candidate proposed by the Presidential Search Committee until such time as the suggested external review is complete and incorporated.” On the faculty’s front, a petition (see below) is circulating for presentation to the UBC Faculty Association Executive Committee. It calls for the latter to bring a motion to its membership expressing no confidence in the UBC Board of Governors. Faculty members who wish to sign should send an email to ubc.fa.resolution@gmail.com from their @ubc.ca email address.

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The UBC Board of Governors is operating in the “shadows”

This is according to a scathing letter sent today by the Executive of the UBC Faculty Association to thousands of its members. It is becoming clear that the replacement of John Montalbano by Stuart Belkin as Chair of the Board hasn’t been accepted as sufficient enough to assuage the concerns of the UBC faculty. Indeed, another letter was sent today to the Chair, Stuart Belkin, Premier Christy Clark, and Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkinson. “It has become clear that the University of British Columbia is in the midst of a governance crisis”, the letter says. They also call for a judicial external review of the Board and its operations. The acting Chair, Alice Laberge, had mentioned to the protesters who crashed Tuesday’s Board meeting, that Belkin was committed to reform and that he has a few ideas about how to improve transparency and accountability at the Board level. This said, the concrete evidence of irregularities is quickly piling up, and we don’t see how the government can avoid a judicial review.

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Spring cleaning has started early at UBC

It was historic, it was rowdy, and it was fun. It has been a while since UBC has seen a couple of hundred of its faculty screaming their heads off, protesting the Board of Governors meeting, and demanding UBC management and Board accountability. A friend related how the gathering provided a nice and welcome opportunity to get to meet colleagues from other departments and Faculties: a rare occurrence at UBC. Some of the protesters wanted nothing less but the resignation of Chancellor Lindsay Gordon. The Smith report, recent FOI disclosures, and the latest unintentional UBC leaks have been pointing to his direct involvement in the Berdahl case, as well as in the brutal removal of President Gupta. Quite a feat for someone who had been in this –mostly ceremonial– position for less than year.

12631499_10100958852383941_5752796274896187777_nIt is worth noting that in the December 2015 Board meeting, and four months after these two unprecedented acts, Lindsay Gordon was quoted as saying“I don’t come from an academic background, so I am still not sure what I can and cannot do as a Governor.” Protesters seem to agree and are wary of the fact that he is now chairing the presidential search committee to choose the successor of Dr. Gupta. In the meantime, we suggest that he takes a look at Alan Richardson’s analysis of the difference between a university’s board and a corporate board.

UBC faculty, staff and students were also demanding a clean up of the Board and university administration, in particular that:

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Together we can make UBC transparent and accountable

UBC faculty, staff and students will gather on Tuesday, February 2 at 12:30 PM2:00 PM at the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, 6163 University Boulevard.

They will protest the upcoming UBC Board of Governors Meeting, and will publicly demand that

  • the Board of Governors stop holding secret, undocumented meeting
  • the Board honour its duty to operate in a transparent and accountable fashion
  • an external review of its past practices take place immediately

For more background on the issues leading to this protest, see this letter from the Faculty Association, which details how the BoG has, among other things, held committee meetings that left no official record, and made decisions about personnel matters without formal assessments or performance reviews.

Please share with all interested UBC people: faculty, students, staff, alumni… Faculty are encouraged to wear academic robes if they have them!

We have invited MLA David Eby, MLA Andrew Weaver, Minister Andrew Wilkinson, and President Arvind Gupta to join us and speak about these issues.


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A statement by Dr Arvind Gupta

Today UBC released a number of documents related to my resignation as President and Vice Chancellor of the University of British Columbia. As a result, I am compelled to comment on the documents, their content, tone and the accuracy of what they portray.

What was published is a one-sided representation of what transpired in the months prior to my resignation.

I have spent my entire working life trying to make this country and province better. The chance to be UBC’s President was an exciting opportunity to build a 21st century university, one that is better connected to the community, and the bigger world beyond the campus. This modern version of our largest university is essential to making BC into an even better society.

As President, I made a commitment to the people of British Columbia, the Board, the students and the faculty that we would move UBC to become one of the top universities in the world.

That goal meant substantial change including a rethinking of priorities and refocusing on the academic mission. And change can make some people uneasy. If it didn’t, it would be called the status quo. So, it is no surprise that not everyone at the university embraced this vision and the required actions.

That said, the assertions in the released documents, were not based on facts or evidence given to me at any time.

Still, I attempted to work in a collegial manner which is the hallmark of every well-governed university. Unfortunately there was never any formal review of my performance, or outreach by the Board to the broader university community. This would have allowed both the UBC Board and myself to assess my first year accomplishments and the scope of the work ahead.

This summer it became clear to me, that I did not have the support of the full Board, and as such felt I had no other option but to resign in the best interest of the university. It is my sincerest hope that I with leading UBC scholars will carry on with this important work on behalf of UBC, British Columbia, and Canada.

Media Contact:

Kirk Williams

604 340 4597


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A few wise words from the UBC Faculty Association to the presidential search committee

By Mark MacLean, President, on behalf of the Executive Committee

Dear Search Committee,

Thank you for meeting with us on January 12. We welcomed the opportunity to communicate some of our concerns about, and hopes for, this presidential search process.

We would like to take this opportunity to both reiterate and amplify some of the points of our conversation with you. We are convinced that the new President must be someone able to regain the trust of the faculty and university community, and have the credibility required to move forward in a responsive way to the damage our university’s reputation has suffered in the last half year. Continue reading

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Searching for a president after disappearing another: The UBC conundrum

By Professor Leah Keshet

In August of 2015, the UBC Faculty Association (UBCFA) sent some strongly worded letters to the administration and the Board of Governors, seeking open and full disclosure of the causes for termination of Professor Arvind Gupta’s presidency. This appears to have had no tangible result, to date, and the whole affair remains buried in secrecy. UBC is yet to comply and reply to scores of Freedom of Information requests. We, the faculty, have not been able to ascertain what happened and what is being kept from the university community. Unfortunately, it seems the UBCFA has chosen not to continue advocating for disclosure of the facts.

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