In Board of Governors faculty representative by-election, Guptagate still haunts UBC politics

Nearly three years since Professor Arvind Gupta resigned from his position as UBC President, the controversy surrounding his departure continues to haunt university politics.

Following Gupta’s resignation in August 2015, a series of revelations including secret Board of Governors (BoG) meetings and leaked documents revealed that he had faced extreme internal pressure to resign. In March 2016, the Faculty Association also passed a vote of no-confidence in the board, citing concerns about “openness and transparency, management of conflict of interest and the way that the board operates.”

Now, the consequences of those decisions are playing out in this year’s BoG faculty representative by-election, which was triggered following Associate Professor Ayesha Chaudhry’s announcement to step down at the end of June. Four candidates are now vying for her soon-to-be vacated position, with two of them directly connected to Guptagate.

One of them is psychology Professor Darrin Lehman, who was a Vancouver faculty representative on the Board when Gupta resigned. He also signed a February 2016 statement that says the eight then-elected BoG members voluntarily “voted to accept” Gupta’s resignation.

“We did so after respectful deliberation among all Board members and based on our own observations,” reads the statement. “None of us was bullied or pressured. We continue to believe that this decision was in the best interests of the university.”

The other is mathematics Professor Nassif Ghoussoub, an outspoken critic of the BoG who publicly supported Gupta. In a letter that was published in the Vancouver Sun, Ghoussoub called the Board’s activity “ an unacceptable level of ad hoc, ruthless, and possibly illegitimate actions occurring at the highest levels of our flagship university.”

Ghoussoub has both directly and indirectly hinted at the dichotomy on Twitter, and noted Lehman’s bid for the position as one of the main motivations to continue his own candidacy. He said he had “a hunch” during the nomination period, and would have withdrawn if he had seen only “good, new faces” when the candidate list was released ont he first day of voting.

“Darrin Lehman was part of the Board that got 800 votes of non-confidence,” he said in an interview with The Ubyssey. “Some people did a lot of damage to the university and they need to be stopped once and for all, so I decided to get the last kick at the can and go for it.”

Some faculty members on Twitter have rallied around Ghoussoub’s position by either actively tweeting about it, or liking and/or retweeting those tweets.

“I think it’s a very interesting choice for someone who was on the Board of Governors at the time when 800 faculty members voted no-confidence in the Board to run again and to say nothing about it in the statement of candidacy,” philosophy Professor Alan Richardson said in an interview with The Ubyssey.

Gupta himself has tweeted and sent an email to faculty members endorsing Ghoussoub.

“I feel compelled to send this message, given what has been happening at UBC over the past few years,” he wrote, stressing the need for a faculty candidate with “the fortitude to hold the Board accountable.”

Lehman declined to comment about Gupta’s endorsement of Ghoussoub, writing that “I didn’t know about this endorsement, and don’t want to speak to such issues.”

At the same time, Ghoussoub also criticized the lack of details about Lehman’s role at UBC in his supplemental information as not adhering to the openness and transparency that a public university should strive for. In particular, Lehman only includes “Professor” as the information about his current occupation, while the other three candidates outline their academic and community engagements in more details.

“Current occupation: Professor,” Ghoussoub reads from a printed copy of Lehman’s supplemental information.

“We don’t even know in which department. We don’t know which faculty. Who does he report to? Is he teaching courses? Does he have students? Does he have research grants? Does he lead initiatives? Essentially, we don’t know what’s his function at the university.”

“I’m on my 18 month administrative leave, and not returning to my Department prior to my retirement from UBC,” said Lehman in response to the comment request about this criticism.

Officially, the leave would start on July 1, 2018, and he attributed its reason to the “nine years in the Faculty of Arts Office.” According to UBC website, an individual “must return to active duty as a faculty member for at least one year immediately after the period of the administrative leave.”

Lehman confirmed that if elected, he would serve on the Board while continuing to be on administrative leave.

This article has been updated to better clarify the support for Ghoussoub on Twitter and his motivation to continue running regarding Lehman.