A release of 861 pages of documents relating to the resignation of Arvind Gupta as president of the University of British Columbia sheds new light on the circumstances surrounding his sudden departure only one year into his five-year term.
The heavily redacted documents include e-mails between Dr. Gupta and John Montalbano, the former chair of the university's board of governors, that show rising tension between the two men.
Many of the pages concern the normal running of any university, including slipping international rankings and strategic decisions on the athletics department and divestment campaigns. The release responds to requests made by individuals and media organizations seeking more information about the resignation. The university has maintained that a non-disclosure agreement prevents it from releasing specific details.
That agreement, included as part of the package, reveals that Dr. Gupta is receiving his presidential salary of $446,750 until February, 2017, as well as a $130,000 research grant to restart his academic career as a computer science professor.
The grant "is not technically compensation, it is a research grant. … Dr. Gupta was in an administrative position for a long time. Prior to being president he was head of Mitacs and to re-establish yourself as a researcher takes some time and takes some resources, so that was part of the negotiations," said Philip Steenkamp, UBC's vice-president of external relations and communications.
E-mails between Dr. Gupta and Mr. Montalbano show how the relationship changed as the year progressed. In September, two months after starting his position, the new president gently deflected a question on a human-resources matter from Mr. Montalbano: "I'll keep you in the loop as we progress," he writes.
In January, Mr. Montalbano appeared to become more deeply involved in day-to-day operations. He arranged to come for a breakfast meeting at the president's residence at 6:30 a.m. to see the résumés of Dr. Gupta's office team. Five days later, a redacted e-mail conversation ends with the line, "It was a refreshing call honestly," from Mr. Montalbano.
Still, collegiality prevailed throughout the winter, as the two men appeared to be engaged in setting up regular meetings to set the agenda for board and committee meetings. A meeting reviewing some aspect of the president's term occurs on May 18 and is followed by summary documents and responses from the president.
None of those documents is included in the release.
"I do appreciate the redactions are significant and they are frustrating, but we are caught not only by the privacy legislation but by the non-disclosure agreement with Arvind Gupta," Mr. Steenkamp said.
Expensive renovations to the president's residence were revealed in June, but the issue caused only a brief uptick in e-mails.
At the end of July, Mr. Montalbano and Greg Peet, a board member appointed by the province, request a meeting with the president. When Dr. Gupta asks what is on the agenda, Mr. Montalbano responds that they "wished to have a quick, confidential discussion, not captured on e-mail." That meeting appears to have taken place on July 29.
A day later, the university is awarded a $66.5-million grant from the federal government for its Quantum Matter Institute. The board of governors is told of Dr. Gupta's departure on July 31.
The documents also make clear that the province is using its funding levers to attempt to steer academic programming at UBC. One provincial document indicates the amount of targeted funding each discipline, including engineering, psychology and education, will receive. In 2013, B.C. announced that it would allocate 25 per cent of its funding for postsecondary institutions to occupations in demand.
The e-mails reference Brad Bennett, the son and grandson of former Social Credit premiers, current head of BC Hydro and a former chair of the university's board of governors, who was invited to a meeting between Mr. Montalbano and the president.
"Personnel matters remain the purview of the board and it would be inappropriate to comment," a ministry spokesperson said of the government's knowledge of the events.
The university is now searching for a new president, who is expected to be announced by the end of June. Martha Piper, a former president, is serving as interim leader until that time.