Board of Governors faculty candidates discuss housing and UBC’s academic values at by-election forum

Three of the four Board of Governors faculty representative candidates met on May 23 at Jack Poole Hall to discuss their platforms, university transparency and how to bridge the divide between the Board and faculty. Psychology Professor Dr. Darrin Lehman was not able to attend.

The forum started with individual candidates speaking about their backgrounds and platforms, before opening up the floor for questions from the audience.

Joining via video call, Professor Dr. Jeannie Shoveller from the School of Population and Public Health said she would like to see the Board improve its “organizational learning” to locate key areas of strengths and challenges. She also called for improved representation of the “middle ranks” of faculty that she said had been “hollowed out” by rising real-estate costs and a lack of university support.

“I want the Board of Governors to consider every possible remedy to those concerns,” Shoveller said, adding that she would also network with “science funders” and other universities to address these issues.

Microbiology and immunology Professor Dr. Steven Hallam advocated for increased connectivity between the Board, faculty and different departments. He highlighted his research, teaching and positions on advisory boards as evidence he would be able “reach out across boundaries” to improve collaboration.

“I would like to bring that ... kind of interaction-based thinking to the Board of Governors,” he said.

“I would like to help support the faculty in that decision-making process … in a transparent manner that reflects the interest of all of us in the campus community and most of all, I want to emphasize the themes of diversity and sustainability in that context.”

Dr. Nassif Ghoussoub, mathematics professor and a Board faculty representative from 2008-2014, discussed his long history of working and engaging with UBC before highlighting a the university’s drift away from its key academic values. He said that integrating faculty into decision-making is crucial for an administration that “needs all the help it can get.”

“We are losing on many, many fronts of academic values,” he said.

“Re-focusing on the institution’s academic mission is really the common denominator for all of [the platform points] because ... you can reduce them to this aspect that the academic mission is being lost slowly but surely.”

No major disagreements

The candidates then fielded questions from the audience, which started off with the ever-relevant topic of housing.

For Hallam, the difficulty of attracting and retaining faculty is as an “ongoing issue” that has directly affected his department. He called for diversified strategies to take pressure off faculty — like improving access tow low-interest loans — and for more conversations about how housing has impacted different faculty departments.

“Probably the way to start that is from the grassroots,” he said, “not just as Board representative bringing it up at meetings, but organizing forums like this to talk about it and what we can do.”

Shoveller agreed with Hallam’s remark, while also reiterating her earlier point about the impact that the housing crisis has on “early and mid-career faculty.”

Ghoussoub described the process behind the 2012 Housing Action Plan (HAP) — which was created by a task group that he chaired during his time on the Board — but noted that certain policies like the restricted home ownership for faculty were not carried out by UBC.

“One of my first questions … if re-elected is, ‘What the heck happened to the Housing Action Plan of 2012?’” he said.

Lisa Colby, managing director of faculty staff housing and relocation services, attributed the lack of tangible progress on the ownership policy to technical difficulties regarding tax benefits and provincial regulations in a October 2017 interview with The Ubyssey. Since 2012, the HAP has also undergone its first five-year review and received updates to its policies in April 2018.

Other questions centered more on UBC’s academic values, with one touching on the closed nature of the search for deans.

Ghoussoub found this “obscene” and referred to his platform point about “returning to open searches for senior administrators and to convocation-elected chancellors.” He also referenced a Chronicle of Higher Education article that indicates a link between “the widespread use of search consultants, the decline in shared governance, and the politicization of higher education” and “the marginalization of faculty input in searches.”

Hallam added that these practices also extend into how faculty members are hired under research chairs, and that some candidates might not want their home institutions to know that they are considering leaving — which he doesn’t agree with.

“If you’re going to leave, leave … and people need to be aware of your interest,” he said.

Shoveller described the responses from Hallam and Ghoussoub “comprehensive” and called on the Board of Governors and UBC to renew their commitment to transparency.

Similarly, the candidates were then asked about how they would balance the business and educational aspects of a university.

Ghoussoub criticized the high investment into sports facilities as “bad business” and said that students are drawn toward a university because of its research and teaching instead. Accordingly, more capital funding should go toward supporting the academic mission.

“Even in the business of education, they are failing and this needs to be said over and over again,” he said.

Shoveller also stressed the importance of the core academic mission, while pointing out the need to make teaching and community engagement “as highly regarded as research.” Hallam shared her point and added that there’s a need to build a curriculum that equips students to deal with the modern world.

“Returning and ensuring that the core academic mission is front and centre for the Board of Governors is a great opportunity to try continue the process of de-silo yourself within the community,” she said.

Voting is open until June 5. The winning candidate will join the Board on July 1 and serve until February 29, 2020.