Newly Released Documents Show UBC Board Allegedly Conspired To Oust “Faculty Loving” President!
“I now regret … resigning from the presidency and not pushing back harder from the board,” former UBC president Arvind Gupta Gupta told CBC Radio The Early Edition’s Rick Cluff Thursday morning. “I often wonder if I had not resigned whether wonderful scholars we have like Jennifer Berdahl wouldn’t have had to go through what they went through,” he said.
VANCOUVER – Former UBC president Arvind Gupta, after months of turmoil surrounding his abrupt resignation last year, came out swinging at the rogue University of BC’s Board of Governors, who allegedly conspired to oust a “faculty-loving” President.
Gupta’s aggressive response came after to hundreds of pages of documents that ended up going public. Gupta said those documents give a one-sided representation of what transpired in the months before his stepped down.
He says he regrets the move, adding he felt there was no choice after finding he didn’t have full support of the board of governors.
“I couldn’t anticipate what would happen at the university since then… and I’ve often thought, that if I had stayed, pushed back harder on the board, maybe some of the things that transpired since then wouldn’t have come to pass.”
Gupta says he let it be known that he was interested in building a modern, 21st century University.
“And I still believe this in my heart. I believe that the wonderful scholars we have at UBC… I’d really like to work with them to continue to develop that vision.”
The documents describe Gupta’s first year as president as “unsettled.” They argue he was too quick to become confrontational or dismissive, and needed to work on creating an environment of trust.
Gupta had only finished one year of his five year term when he stepped down in August.
But this week Gupta said he regrets his sudden resignation last summer and wishes he had pushed back harder against complaints about his performance.
“I now regret … resigning from the presidency and not pushing back harder from the board,” Gupta told CBC Radio The Early Edition’s Rick Cluff Thursday morning. It was his first broadcast interview since his resignation.
“I often wonder if I had not resigned whether wonderful scholars we have like Jennifer Berdahl wouldn’t have had to go through what they went through,” he said.
Berdahl, a UBC professor, spoke out last summer about Gupta’s resignation in a blog, writing that he had lost a “masculinity contest” with the school leadership. Later, she said UBC’s chair of the board of governors, John Montalbano attempted to gag her by calling to complain about the post.
Montalbano later resigned after an internal report concluded the university failed in its obligations to protect Berdahl’s academic freedom.
Emails show Montalbano wanted to have a “confidential discussion, not captured on email” with Gupta just days before board members received notice about a meeting where they would discuss the president’s resignation.
Gupta said that he supports the academic freedom of professors. In fact, he wanted them to “stand up and take control, to run the university.”
“They are on the ground. They’re talking with the students. They’re talking to other stakeholders. They know the reality of the situation.”
Gupta said that he wondered in hindsight if it would have been better “to take on these issues at the front end and not let things devolve the way they did.”
He said the decision to resign was painful, adding he had hoped to transform UBC into a “truly 21st century university” when he took on the job.
He said he was never a “career administrator” and had hoped to create a university that was “well connected to the community, that is part of the community, that our students’ education is going to be a partnership with the wonderful things that are happening in our society.”
He was surprised to learn the board did not support him, saying he had positive feedback from professors. Instead, he said he learned late last summer that an ad hoc committee of the board had met and decided that “I did not have their confidence.”
“I felt I was being put between a rock and a hard place. How do you manoeuvre when what you are hearing is so different from what I am being told?”
Gupta’s interview follows the mistaken release of unredacted documents related to his departure from the university.
Those documents revealed a growing rift between UBC’s board of governors and Gupta in the months ahead of the then-president’s sudden resignation.
In his interview, Cluff reminded Gupta that speaking out was going against the non-disclosure agreement and questioned whether his severance package and his “resignation period” salary of nearly $450,000, not including a $130,000 research grant, would be affected.
“I am not concerned about any of that,” Gupta said. “I wasn’t out to try to negotiate a big package or anything. It’s immaterial to me. What I care about is the welfare of the university and the people at the university. That’s my number one priority.”
Gupta said he felt “compelled” to comment on the documents following their release. He also released a written statement on Wednesday before speaking to CBC.
DR ARVIND GUPTA’S STATEMENT TO THE PRESS:
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 past 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 this important work on behalf of UBC, British Columbia, and Canada.