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UBC to look for third leader in about a year after president quits

UBC president Arvind Gupta says research universities prepare students for the future.

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The University of British Columbia's president has quit in a surprise move that will force one of Canada's key research universities to seek its third leader in only about a year.

As it made the unexpected announcement on Friday, the chair of the board of governors at British Columbia's largest university said no disciplinary issues prompted the resignation of Arvind Gupta.

"None whatsoever. Let me be very clear. None whatsoever," John Montalbano said in an interview.

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He said Dr. Gupta recently decided he could better contribute to the university in a senior role in its computer-science department.

"Professor Gupta has had an opportunity to reflect on what is in the best interests of himself going forward and has chosen to resign," he said, calling the decision "regrettable."

"Arvind clearly loves the university. He has reflected on what would be best for him and we're pleased that he is stepping into the department of computer science."

In an e-mail exchange with The Globe and Mail, Dr. Gupta did not elaborate on the reasons for his departure.

"I believe that the university is on strong footing going forward both financially and intellectually, and that we will continue our ascent as one of the premier institutions in the world," he wrote.

"I am honoured to have served this great university and I will continue to be an advocate for Canada both domestically and internationally, aiming to enhance our social, cultural and economic well-being."

He said a statement issued from the university would best address his departure.

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The release praised Dr. Gupta's accomplishments, such as developing a strategy to support diversity and presiding over more than $200-million in fundraising for the university, which has more than 59,000 students at campuses in Vancouver and the Okanagan.

Speaking for UBC's students, Jenna Omassi, the academic vice-president for the UBC Alma Mater Society, said the resignation caught them off guard.

"No one could have really predicted that this was coming," she said in an interview.

Ms. Omassi added that she was hard-pressed to judge Dr. Gupta as a university president because he had not been in the job long, especially compared with his predecessors.

"The AMS believes he did all that he could in his year," she said. "It's hard to say whether or not he was a good president because he was a president for one year."

Dr. Gupta succeeded Stephen Toope, who was president for eight years, until June, 2014. Mr. Toope's predecessor, Martha Piper, will be interim president from Sept. 1, 2015 until June 30, 2016, during the search for a new leader.

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Before taking office, Dr. Gupta – a computer-science professor and expert in innovation policy – was CEO of Mitacs, a non-profit organization that connects graduate students to business and industry through research.

As he was named to his leadership role last year, Dr. Gupta – chosen by a 22-member committee that included students and faculty – said innovation had to be the cornerstone of UBC.

In his installation ceremony last September, he talked of his roots in India, where he was born, through to arriving in Canada at age 7 and growing up in Timmins, Ont. He earned his PhD in computer science from the University of Toronto in 1991.He boldly said UBC was one of the top 25 universities in the world, but he was intent on lifting it to the top 10, and his administration would be "unwavering" in its focus on research excellence.

Mr. Montalbano said he expects UBC to survive the turmoil. "I am very fond of saying that even the greatest institutions are never dependent on one person," he said. "I don't believe we will miss a beat."

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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