Documents Show U of British Columbia Board's Displeasure in Ex-President

January 28, 2016

Newly released documents show tensions between the University of British Columbia's Board of Governors and former President Arvind Gupta. Gupta resigned suddenly last August just one year into a five-year term.

The independent news outlet UBC Insiders first reported on the documents, unredacted versions of which were included, seemingly by accident, as attachments to an otherwise heavily redacted records release made by the university earlier this week.

In one of the documents, a letter following up on a meeting that occurred May 18, John Montalbano, the former board chair, describes Gupta's first year as president as "an unsettled one. Relationships with key stakeholder groups, notably your senior executive, the faculty deans and the Board of Governors, are not at functional levels to allow you to move forward in a confident manner -- unusual even for an organization undergoing strategic shifts in vision and key personnel."

The letter continues: "The Executive Committee of the Board has identified key aspects of your leadership style and management skills which require a 'course correction' in order for you to lead the university effectively." Among the issues identified in that letter was a lack of trust between Gupta and other senior leaders.

"You are rarely seen to solicit or seek advice from those best positioned to support you," Montalbano wrote to Gupta. "You are deemed too quick to engage in debate in a confrontational or dismissive manner, which is demoralizing to a group of executives in fear of their employment security. Members of the Board of Governors have also experienced similar interactions in and out of formal settings."

In a June 8 letter, Gupta affirms the importance of creating "an atmosphere of professional trust among decision makers and stakeholders" and stated his objective of making UBC among the top 10 public universities in the world.

"Moving UBC into the top 10 will take time, focus and energy," Gupta wrote. "This includes honest dialogue with attentive listening to a wide variety of UBC stakeholders, of which the board, senate, executive and other senior leadership are clearly an essential part. Also important are staff, students, faculty, alumni and donors. I have had regular meetings with student leadership groups, as well as with staff in various fora including, most recently, a staff lunch," Gupta wrote.

"As you know, I have also been meeting with faculty (and will continue to do so) in every department across the two campuses, a first for a recent UBC president. With over 70 percent of departments and units visited to date, I’ve been encouraged by the enthusiastic support I have received from many faculty for a dedicated refocusing of resources on the core academic mission of the university: research, teaching and learning."

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