UBC’s Faculty Association is corrupt and must change, say professors

“It’s academic mobbing,” said Peter Wylie.

“They’re trying to stop me.”

On Tuesday, the UBC Faculty Association (UBCFA) emailed an unusual advisory to its more-than 3,200 members about Peter Wylie, a professor of economics at UBC Okanagan. The advisory was sent during the UBCFA elections, in which Wylie is a candidate for vice-president. The online elections are open to faculty members until April 5.

“Dr. Wylie alleges that the staff of the [UBCFA] are in collusion with University administration and human resources on the Okanagan campus, and working against the interests of our membership,” reads the advisory.

“Dr. Wylie’s allegation is false and unfounded. In our opinion, it constitutes bullying and harassment against our staff.”

Wylie’s allegations were supported by a 31-page report he published online and emailed on Monday — the first day UBCFA elections were open – to 310 professors at UBC Vancouver and 104 at UBC Okanagan. The document is a case-by-case accounting of his interactions with the UBCFA as a professor and as a member of the UBCFA Okanagan Faculty Committee and its Member Services Grievances Committee.

Representing faculty on both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses in their dealings with UBC, the UBCFA is governed by a faculty-elected executive committee of 14 members. Of those, nine members-at-large positions are currently up for election. Separately, on a staggered timeline, the UBCFA’s five standing committees also elect one chair each, all of whom also sit on the executive committee. Elected positions are unpaid and work on a two-year term basis. Its operations are handled by a professional staff of six.

Wylie is running for the executive committee on a loud campaign of “sweeping changes to the UBCFA.” He says that the some of the professional staff are in collusion with UBCO management and must go. He’s framing this year’s UBCFA election as a battle between “the faculty members like you and me who fund [the UBCFA],” and “the executive director and her professional staff.”

“There’s a sweetheart union deal between UBC Okanagan and the UBC Faculty Association that benefits UBCO management and faculty association [staff] in Vancouver at the expense of UBCO faculty members,” said Wylie.

A sweetheart deal means collusion between management and labour representatives that benefits management but is unfavourable to union workers. Wylie argues extensively in his report, using examples, that the UBCFA accomplishes this through consolidating power to staff, drawing out legitimate grievances until they’re dropped, and acting in UBC admin’s interests over the faculty they’re supposed to represent.

Wylie is running with seven other professors from UBC’s Okanagan campus. There are 11 candidates from UBC Vancouver’s campus. It’s the first year that UBCO professors have contested eight UBCFA executive committee positions. The ninth position is a library representative — the only UBCV candidate has already won by default.

“Our intention with running the eight people is to put out a message that we’re not happy,” Wylie told The Ubyssey in a phone interview. “We’re not thinking we’re going to get elected, necessarily — this is a protest.”

"The charge of harassment is an attack on Dr. Wylie’s freedom of expression."

— Paul J. Quirk

Six minutes after the UBCFA advisory went out accusing Wylie of harassment, Professor E. Wayne Ross, of UBC Vancouver’s department of curriculum and pedagogy, replied.

“Whether or not the allegations in Dr. Wylie’s report are accurate, this response seems to confirm that the UBCFA is actively working against him,” wrote Ross. “This is a completely inappropriate message to send to the membership at any time, but particularly in the midst of an election in which Dr. Wylie is a candidate.”

Ross tweeted the same complaint, sparking debate. Then, two days later, there was another email reply to the advisory, this time from Professor Paul J. Quirk of UBC’s political science department.

“The charge of harassment is an attack on Dr. Wylie’s freedom of expression,” he wrote. “It is an attempt to suppress debate and avoid criticism about matters of concern to the entire faculty.”

On Friday, a candidate for UBCFA president, Associate Professor Martin Schulz of UBC Sauder’s organizational behavior division, also weighed in.

“The level of dysfunction and chaos that UBC faculty have to endure is unbearable,” Schulz wrote. “We cannot continue like this. We need to stop the train wreck and develop better approaches and structures.”

Schulz said he’d personally been “academically mobbed” at UBC, and that it had been an “abusive experience.” He called the current UBCFA situation an “Orwellian nightmare.”

According to a 2010 paper by S.B. Khoo, published in the Malaysian Family Physician, “academic mobbing,” is “an insidious, non-violent and sophisticated kind of psychological bullying that predominantly takes place in college and university campuses.” Wylie cites this definition in his document.

Alan Richardson, a professor of philosophy from UBC Vancouver who is running against Wylie for vice-president of the UBCFA, would not talk about Wylie’s allegations, saying he’d have “nothing of use to say.” He said he was not aware of any problems with faculty grievances. Richardson’s candidate statement says that he would foster “a workplace atmosphere that fully supports the work of the expert staff members of the Association.”

The Ubyssey reached out to the UBCFA president and spokesperson, Nancy Langton, for comment. Langton responded to neither an email nor phone calls over two workdays.

“She’s been sidelined by the UBCFA for siding with faculty over staff,” Wylie said.

“The President is apparently on leave at the moment,” said former UBCFA President Mark MacLean by email.

There is no notice of Langton being on leave on her UBC faculty page, nor on the UBCFA website, nor does her email have an auto-reply set up. The UBCFA did not reply to a request to confirm her status in time for the publishing of this article.

Langton is currently running in the UBCFA elections, but not as an incumbent president. She’s running instead for one of three member-at-large positions. In her candidate statement, she stresses the importance that “the [UBCFA] remain firmly under the control of faculty members, rather than staff. … It is really important that the Association be faculty-led and driven.”

MacLean, who supports Alan Richardson for vice-president, addressed Wylie’s allegations by email, saying Wylie’s assertions that “the staff of the Faculty Association act against the interests of its members are false. Furthermore, there is no ‘sweetheart deal’ between the Association and the UBCO Administration.”

MacLean said Okanagan faculty are well-represented at the UBCFA already. He said the Okanagan Standing Committee’s chair gets a guaranteed spot on the executive committee. And, “as evidenced by the current election, Okanagan faculty members are also eligible to run for all the other positions on the executive committee, though none have done so until now.”

The current UBCFA Vice President, Vinayak Vatsik — answering questions in Langton’s stead — said it may take until Monday to get a response from the committee.

“We don’t usually talk to media and I certainly have no authority to do so,” Vatsik said by email. “I will ask [the executive committee] if they wish to make any comment.”

“But I can’t promise anything.”

This article has been updated to clarify the composition of UBCF, to correct the title of Professor Paul Quirk and the attribution to his pull quote, as well to clarify Wylie’s platform.