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UBC faculty urge university to release more information on former president’s departure

Former University of British Columbia President Dr. Arvind Gupta stands for a photograph on campus. Mr. Gupta will receive his salary as president next year when is on leave from the university.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The University of British Columbia must consider rescinding the non-disclosure agreement it signed with former president Arvind Gupta and release more information about his sudden departure last month, says a letter signed by the executive committee of the university's faculty association to the school's Board of Governors.

UBC has been under internal and external scrutiny since Dr. Gupta's resignation was announced on the afternoon of Aug. 7. The reasons for the departure have not been publicly released.

Media reports, including in this newspaper, have identified conflicts between members of the administration and Dr. Gupta, his relative lack of senior university experience and issues between the Board and the former president as playing key roles.

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"Given the … incessant stream of rumour and innuendo that continues to swirl around the University, we do not believe that the maintenance of a mutually agreed to non-disclosure agreement around Professor Gupta's resignation is in the best interests of the University, of Professor Gupta, or of the public," the letter states.

The statement goes on to specifically ask the Board to approach the former president to renegotiate how much each party is able to say about what why the computer science professor served only one year of his five-year term as the university's leader.

Hired after a 14-year stint at the helm of Mitacs, a research and entrepreneurship non-profit, Dr. Gupta had been expected to bring innovation and possibly closer links between faculty, the community and industry. Instead, while he won over many professors across the two campuses, he appeared to have alienated senior administrators.

In the wake of his departure, a separate controversy has arisen from allegations that the chair of the Board of Governors infringed on the academic freedom of a business professor at the Sauder School of Business. The university has struck a separate inquiry to tackle that issue.

Tuesday was also the first day in office for interim president Martha Piper, who served as president for almost a decade starting in 1997. While the search for a new president begins, Dr. Piper will lead UBC in celebrating its centenary.

In a commentary piece published in the Vancouver Sun, Dr. Piper said the university must remember that it has faced greater challenges than the untimely resignation of a president and that it has endured.

"UBC has also weathered worse in 100 years: a Great Depression; two World Wars; an internationally reported protest during the 1997 APEC Summit," she wrote.

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In the letter to the Board, the 15 members of the faculty association executive committee argue that the university can only move forward from the current crisis and attract high-calibre candidates if the relationship between the Board of Governors and the former president is clear.

"The point we take from Dr. Piper's words is that the University is only as good as its faculty, staff, and students, and that UBC is bigger than the Board, and bigger than Professor Gupta. We urge the Board of Governors … to work with Professor Gupta to negotiate terms permitting all parties to speak freely about the events that have affected us all collectively."

The university did not immediately comment on the new developments.

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About the Author
Postsecondary Education Reporter

Simona Chiose covers postsecondary education for The Globe and Mail. She was previously the paper’s Education Editor, coordinating coverage of all aspects of education, from kindergarten to college and university. She has a PhD in political science from the University of Toronto. More

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