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Former UBC President Gupta Breaks His Silence on Resignation and Leaked Documents

A number of documents unintentionally leaked by UBC contain information that hint at the reasons behind former UBC President Arvind Gupta’s resignation in August after less than a year on the job. The documents were unintentionally made accessible via attachments included in a Freedom of Information request released on by UBC on January 25th. The FOI request consisted mainly of emails, most of them between Gupta and the former chair of UBC’s Board of Governors, John Montalbano. While the emails remain cordial, some of the exchanges point to possible friction between Montalbano and Gupta.

Photo credit: UBC News

For example, an April 7th exchange between Montalbano and Gupta shows this friction. In their exchange, Montalbano expresses his disappointment that the board was not informed of an athletics announcement. On July 27th, Montalbano asks for a confidential meeting and then, just a few days later on July 30th, Montalbano sends a follow up email that says, “I am following up on our meeting yesterday morning and particularly in relation to your…” However, the remainder of this sentence and the rest of the email are redacted from the report. On July 31st, the board called for a meeting to discuss Gupta’s resignation, which suggests that Gupta resigned during or sometime after his confidential meeting with Montalbano. On August 6th, Gupta’s resignation was accepted by the board and was made public via a university-wide email on August 7th. 

Photo Credit: UBC-records

The reasons behind Gupta’s resignation were unknown at the time of the university-wide email on August 7th, but in one of the leaked documents, a review of a meeting held on May 18th by Montalbano provides detailed criticisms from the board regarding Gupta’s “leadership style and managment skills”, which the board believed required a ‘course correction’. 

Some of the criticisms from the board included:

1. The “low level of trust” between Gupta and board members, who accused Gupta of acting in a “confrontational”, “dismissive”, and “demoralising” manner.

2. Gupta’s lack of “collegiality and collaboration”.

3. A lack of communication, particularly between Gupta and the board.

4. Gupta’s lack of engagement with the board. The review also accused Gupta of treating the board as a “distraction or a nuisance”.

Photo Credit: UBC Insiders

On January 28th of this year, Gupta broke his silence regarding his resignation and the leaked documents in an interview with Global BC. In the interview, Gupta admits that he ‘regrets’ his resignation and confirmed that friction between a ‘subset’ of the board contributed to his resignation. According to Gupta, an ad-hoc committee created over the summer by a group of board members approached Gupta and cited their lack of confidence in his leadership skills. Gupta also said his request to appear before the board was denied and that he feels that he did not have the full support of the board. In regards to this, Gupta said, “I felt like I was boxing with shadows and dodging ghosts all the time.” 

In the interview with Global BC, Gupta expressed that many of the issues that the university has faced since the summer of 2015 could have been avoided had he not resigned. Gupta referenced UBC professor Jennifer Berdahl, whose allegation that UBC had impinged upon her academic freedom was confirmed in a report that resulted in Montalbano’s resignation earlier this year. Berdahl had written an article that was critical of the university’s handling of Gupta’s resignation, and Montalbano impigned upon her academic freedom in response. “Maybe that wouldn’t have happened [had I not resigned]”, said Gupta in reference to Berdahl, “I do wonder, if I’d made a different decision, whether the university would be in a better place today”.

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