Former UBC President Arvind Gupta has finally spoken out, seven months after abruptly resigning one year into his five-year term, and says he regrets leaving his position.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Gupta responded to this week’s 861-page Freedom of Information release that also included a number of leaked files pointing to a tense relationship between the President and Chair of the Board, John Montalbano.
“What was published is a one-sided representation of what transpired in the months prior to my resignation,” said Gupta.
“Change can make some people uneasy. If it didn’t, it would be called the status quo. So, it is no surprise that not everyone at the university embraced this vision and the required actions. That said, the assertions in the released documents, were not based on facts or evidence given to me at any time,” he continued.
Gupta adds that though he attempted to work in a “collegial manner”, there was never any formal review of his performance or outreach by the Board to the university community as a whole.
“This would have allowed both the UBC Board and myself to assess my first year accomplishments and the scope of the work ahead,” said Gupta.
What ultimately led him to resign, he says, was finding out in the summer of 2015 that he did not have the full support of the Board which gave him “no other option but to resign in the best interest of the university.”
Gupta spoke to Rick Cluff on CBC’s The Early Edition Thursday morning to elaborate on his statement, effectively breaching a non-disclosure agreement that has blocked him from speaking out about his departure.
“In late summer I was told that an ad-hoc committee of the Board had met and determined that I did not have their confidence and that there was no avenue for me to speak with the full board about these issues,” Gupta told CBC.
He added that the Board had a “legal opinion” that blocked him from speaking to the full Board.
“It was a very painful decision but at that point, I decided I had no choice but to resign … Boards have a great deal of power. If they have sufficient votes, they can decide to exclude anyone from the discussion.”
Gupta also added that the Board of Governors has not asked to speak with him since he resigned, or before, to find out what went wrong. Even with the search for a new President in full swing, no one has asked to speak with him.
The communication breakdown also included an unwillingness of the Board to give the President a full and factual review.
“I asked a number of times for a performance review. I wanted to present the Board with a first year progress report, but that was rejected.”
As for the scathing comments about Gupta’s performance found in numerous leaked letters between him and Montalbano, he says they were taken very seriously.
“I took these comments to heart. I did work very hard to take them on board because I wanted to to improve.”
In hindsight, Gupta told The Early Edition that he wishes he’d responded differently to the Board’s behaviour.
“Let me put it this way, I now regret resigning from the Presidency and not pushing back harder on the Board. I often wonder whether had I not resigned whether wonderful scholars like Jennifer Berdahl wouldn’t have had to go through what they went through.”
His reference to UBC Professor Jennifer Berdahl centers on a controversy that transpired in the weeks following his resignation when Berdahl wrote a blog post claiming Montalbano had breached academic freedom and effectively “gagged and threatened” her against speaking out in support of the President. The events surrounding this claim eventually included an external investigation and the resignation of Montalbano from the Board.
In his interview, Cluff reminded Gupta that speaking out was going against the non-disclosure agreement and questioned whether his severance package and his “resignation period” salary of nearly $450,000, not including a $130,000 research grant, would be affected.
“I am not concerned about any of that,” Gupta said. “I wasn’t out to try to negotiate a big package or anything. It’s immaterial to me. What I care about is the welfare of the university and the people at the university. That’s my number one priority.”