March 22 vote could tell board it 'does not meet the standards we expect,' says association president.
Students and faculty protested a UBC board of governors meeting last month. Photo: Twitter.
They've tried sending letters, requesting meetings, and protesting a board of governors' meeting, but the University of British Columbia Faculty Association says the board has essentially ignored them.
"It seems to be of the opinion it doesn't have to talk to us," association president Mark Mac Lean said of the board. "It's a disrespectful approach to dealing with the faculty."
Tension between the two groups has been growing since late January when internal communications between the board and then-UBC president Arvind Gupta were leaked. The emails revealed secret meetings some government-appointed board members had with Gupta in the weeks leading up to his Aug. 7 resignation.
The revelations angered faculty, students, and the public over the board's lack of transparency, leading to so-far unheeded calls for an external review of how the board operates. Now the faculty association is preparing to make its "unprecedented" next move: a non-confidence vote regarding the board's ability to lead UBC.
Set to take place after a March 22 special meeting, if members vote in favour Mac Lean says it will tell the board the faculty association "very much believe that the manner in which you are operating does not meet the standards we expect of you."
University governance expert Donald Fisher says a faculty association non-confidence vote won't harm the UBC board of governors. That doesn't make it any less serious, however, because all universities depend on the confidence of their faculty.
But Fisher, a UBC educational studies professor emeritus, is optimistic a no-confidence vote means the board "will in fact become more transparent... in the way it operates, and that will be the end of it."
Board stresses April meeting invite
The vote comes after the faculty association sent an open letter to the board, copying Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson and Premier Christy Clark, that called for an external review of the board's actions regarding Gupta, as well as for the resignation of board member Greg Peet and university chancellor Lindsay Graham -- both present at the secret meetings -- from the university's presidential search committee.
In their only communication with the faculty association since last November, the board responded to the open letter with an invitation for association member to attend their April meeting.
Mac Lean says the association views this as an attempt to avoid talking about the problem. But the board, speaking through UBC vice president external Philip Steenkamp, says April is ideal because the board's five new members -- new chair Stuart Belkin replacing John Montalbano who quit in October, as well as two appointed and two elected board members whose terms ended in February -- will all be in place by then.
"If you're going to talk to the board, it's better to talk to board members who are going to be here for a few years," he said.
The vote was triggered by a petition calling for a non-confidence motion that was signed by roughly 15 per cent of the faculty association's 3,000-plus members.
Although Mac Lean acknowledges a robust minority of faculty disagree with the motion, the feedback he's received from members so far indicates a strong likelihood the motion will pass.
Faculty poll supports non-confidence
Earlier this week the faculty association published the results of a member survey on the presidential search committee: 70 per cent of the 885 members polled expressed a lack of confidence in the presidential search committee "as it is currently constituted" and a desire for Peet and Graham to step down from the committee.
But Steenkamp says the search is well underway and there are no plans to change committee members.
Because the conflict between the board and faculty has reverberated throughout the Canadian academic community, Mac Lean says the one positive aspect to come out of this fight is any presidency candidates will have to approach the position with a plan to bridge the gap between the board and everyone else.
The final choice for next UBC president is expected to be announced by the end of June.