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British Columbia Report suggests no immediate changes to UBC's presidential-selection process

Arvind Gupta resigned as president of UBC in August, sparking questions about the reason behind his departure.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

The University of British Columbia should improve the way it conducts its presidential searches, its nominating committee acknowledges.

But the committee has decided it doesn't have the time to make any big changes now as it scrambles to find a replacement after the abrupt resignation of its last president, Arvind Gupta, in August.

"We are acutely aware of the time pressure facing the university to find a successor, and thus are proposing [a procedure similar to the old one] instead of attempting to make significant changes at this time," says the report prepared for a UBC senate meeting Wednesday.

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The report asks that the university's two senates, which oversee academic governance, not make any immediate changes to the suggested procedure. It says that changes would take months to make the round of approvals from the two senates and UBC's board of governors.

The university should afterward work on a complete review and update of UBC's procedures for recommending and selecting a president, says the report from Richard Tees, the chair of one of the two nominating committees.

However, the report doesn't identify any specific issues except for the dissatisfaction over the selection committee composition.

The most immediate consequence is that the presidential search committee will be made up of the same kinds of people as in the last search that resulted in Dr. Gupta being chosen.

It will include three members of the board of governors, three members of the university's two senates, three faculty members, three deans, three students, two alumni appointed by the board, and three representatives of various staff groups.

That group will then define what kind of candidate is being sought.

Interim president Martha Piper said, when she was named to replace Dr. Gupta in August, that the next search committee would need to be especially clear about what qualities it's looking for in a new president.

Dr. Tees acknowledged that many other groups have been asking to be included on the committee, and that UBC's search procedure is not as good as those at other universities.

Chancellor Lindsay Gordon said he would "welcome that discussion" about a permanent policy on how to do presidential searches, instead of striking new terms of reference each time.

One critic of UBC's selection system said that opting for the quick process now means the new search committee will replicate the problems of the last one, which led to Dr. Gupta's resignation and a cloud hanging over the university.

"It's merely reproducing the same issue, and it reinforces the notion that [the university] is operating outside the bounds of transparency," said Charles Menzies, an anthropology professor who is also a representative for residents on the UBC endowment lands. "That's a very restrictive list; it's very standard. They need to go beyond that."

He said having the same structure for the selection committee "gives them more control over the actual outcome."

Dr. Menzies said it would have been good to, at the least, have someone from the nearby First Nations community on the selection committee, as well as a "community voice" from Vancouver, since the university plays such a big role in the life and economy of the city.

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But Alex Usher, the principal of the Toronto-based consulting firm Higher Education Strategy Associates, said having broader representation by people who don't know what a president does won't necessarily help.

"The one thing that is missing from almost every search committee is a former president who understands what the nature of the job is."

UBC's last presidential search, which resulted in Dr. Gupta's hire, cost about $350,000, of which $157,500 went to the search firm of Stuart Spencer. The company started canvassing faculty for input in July of 2013. Dr. Gupta was chosen as the successful candidate the following March and took office July 1, 2014.

He told the board July 31 this year he would be resigning and that was publicly announced a week later.

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