Former UBC President Dr. Arvind Gupta has officially accepted a full-time position in the University of Toronto’s department of computer science, beginning in September. Announced informally over Twitter last week by a handful of professors, the move marks the final step in Gupta’s transition out of UBC since holding a visiting position at the University of Toronto since October 2015.
“My wife and I are feeling good about [the move],” said Gupta in an interview with The Ubyssey. “I think we decided that the opportunities that we would get in Toronto were worth pursuing.”
Gupta’s resignation as president — which was announced in August 2015 after he served only 13 months in the position — came as a shock to UBC. It was later revealed — through documents both leaked and obtained through freedom of information requests in Fall 2015 — to be a result of mounting pressure from the UBC Board of Governors and decreasing confidence in his abilities from select members of the Board.
The secretive manner in which the resignation was handled was met with criticism from Gupta himself, the AMS, the UBC Faculty Association and the eight elected student, staff and faculty members of the Board. It also resulted in the resignation of John Montalbano, the then-chairman of the Board.
In light of Gupta’s departure, fellow UBC professors and former colleagues tweeted their congratulations and support to him last week.
Many also expressed their sadness in his decision to leave.
Notably absent was acknowledgement of his departure from UBC, who also declined to comment for this article.
“These were tough decisions to make just because we know so many people at UBC,” said Gupta, who remained a UBC faculty member in the department of computer science over the last two years in order to continue his work with graduate students.
While he doesn’t consider his move away from UBC as inevitable, Gupta admitted that he hasn’t had much contact with UBC’s senior administration in the two years since his departure as president, and has rarely had reason to be on campus.
According to Dr. Nassif Ghoussoub, a professor of mathematics and former elected member of the Board of Governors, this lack of consultation and outreach to the former president from UBC’s senior administration means that UBC has missed out on a wealth of experience and expertise.
“Gupta is a well known strategic thinker, he was hired as president because he had the network, he had the know-how, he knows the ins and outs of Canadian post-secondary system, research initiatives — you name it,” said Ghoussoub, who is also a long-time personal friend of Gupta. “UBC needs this strategic thinking, somebody who knows what’s happening in Canada. I think that any contact [Gupta] had had with the president would have benefitted UBC big time.”
According to Ghoussoub, Gupta was consulted widely on a number of issues ranging from vice-presidential searches to innovation and research initiatives at the University of Toronto — steps he argues should have been a “minimal courtesy” extended by President Ono and interim President Piper at UBC.
“[The University of Toronto] picked his brain like crazy on everything from [program] heads to vice-presidents to presidents about all kinds of initiatives, innovation, research,” said Ghoussoub. “Why didn’t we do this at UBC?
“We always appreciate people when they’re not around, but no one is appreciated in his hometown.”
In his new role in Toronto, Gupta will serve as director of a multi-department graduate program based in the department of computer science that he has been developing over the last two years — but he says he’s not limiting himself to anything just yet.
“We’re just going to see where there are new ideas, especially around students we can support,” said Gupta. “In the meantime I’ll work on the graduate program, but I think that once I’m there the new ideas will start to develop.”
Ultimately, despite his tumultuous exit from UBC’s administration, Gupta remains optimistic about the university’s future.
“There’s a lot of creative energy at UBC [from faculty] … and then you get the students doing things and the goal of an administration is to harness that energy,” said Gupta. “I have a lot of faith that great things will happen at UBC [and] that that university will continue to grow and prosper.”